No fear of barracks

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By GILBERTO MARINGONI*

The Colombian president advanced on institutions considered untouchable in Latin America

“We debated the issue of public security a lot during the election campaign. Its concept has to change”. Sunny morning of Friday, August 19th. Gustavo Petro punctuated a half-hour improvisation with a pencil in his hand, which served as a conductor's baton.

He was on a pulpit flanked by the military leadership, by several ministers, in addition to hundreds of members of the security forces, in front of the immense outdoor area of ​​the General Santander Cadet School, the most important police training center in Colombia, in Bogotá. The objective was to inaugurate the new leadership of the National Police.

There, the most daring change in command of the Armed Forces ever made in the country was consolidated. “So far we have measured the efficiency of security by the number of deaths or arrests in each police action. Indicators have not improved, on the contrary ”, he underlined, opposing the violent guidelines of recent decades.

A quick recap. The ceremony represented a decisive step in an articulation initiated before the inauguration and made official exactly one week before, on August 12th. On that day, the president announced the compulsory transfer of no less than 52 generals to the reserve, opening 24 command posts in the National Police, 16 in the Army, 6 in the Navy and another 6 in the Air Force.

Without subtlety, the president advanced on institutions considered untouchable in Latin America, at the same time that he sought to remove potential threats to the future of his administration. During the campaign, the then candidate was heavily criticized by General Eduardo Zapatero, commander and representative of the hardest wing of the Army, who called him a “politician” for denouncing constant armed threats. The then Minister of Defense, Diogo Molano, joined the chorus, accusing the leader of the Historic Pact coalition of being a liar.

On June 27, a week after the victory, when asked about the Armed Forces, in an interview with the newspaper The country, Gustavo Petro stated that his “summit was very much driven by the political line of the government that is coming to an end” And he amended: “This path is unsustainable. (…) There are extreme right currents that must be eliminated. Some are proclaiming coups and things like that.” The following day, Eduardo Zapatero requested his transfer to the reserves.

Thus, the changes were sung stone. What was surprising was its length. “Never before in the history of this country has there been such a sweeping sweep as the one just carried out by the president and his defense minister, Iván Velásquez,” he joked. The Colombian, daily centenary of Medellin, on the last day 13.

Iván Velásquez, a 67-year-old lawyer and diplomat, is an experienced human rights defender and between 2013-16, he headed the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. Notorious opponent of Álvaro Uribe, his nomination embodies a clear message, highlights the portal the empty silla: "The official priority will be a radical reform in the Armed Forces, instead of extending a white flag to civil and military sectors upset with the turn to the left in the presidency". Added to these initiatives is the announcement of a progressive tax reform, aimed at taxing profits and dividends at the top of the social pyramid.

Gustavo Petro seems to put into practice two classic teachings of political life. The first is Machiavelli's phrase: “Evil well employed (…) is that which is done all at once, out of a need for security”. Brought to the present day and emptied of its moral aspects, its central idea implies not wavering in challenging consolidated interests. The second is the 1933-day metric, established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt shortly after taking office, in March XNUMX, when the United States was experiencing the height of the Great Depression. In a very short period, taking advantage of the legitimacy newly conferred by the polls, the president sent to Congress more than a hundred investment projects, creation of companies, investment funds and actions aimed at immediately alleviating the social drama experienced by the population. started there New Deal.

The roots of the changes in the military area must also be sought in the peace agreement established between the government of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-18) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in November 2016. to institutionalize the process: (1) The Truth Commission, responsible for clarifying crimes against human rights committed over more than six decades of armed conflict; (2) The Missing Persons Search Unit (UBPD), which has a period of 20 years to try to find and identify the fate of around 120 people in the period, and (3) The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) , which is responsible for resolving intricate controversies in the field of human rights. These are still ongoing processes.

Added to this are two political factors: the wear and tear of the brutal repression of the governments of Álvaro Uribe and Iván Duque (2018-22). The initiatives resulted in carte blanche for paramilitary sectors linked to the army to promote summary executions in social movements and in fierce repression of the massive street protests of 2021, by the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (Esmad). It is a kind of shock troop of the National Police, created in 1999 to contain popular demonstrations.

The unpopularity of Uribism contaminated the State's repressive bodies. The intervention carried out by the recently sworn-in government has so far suffered little social resistance, in addition to having divisions within the forces themselves.

The presidential elections showed a divided country. Petro's victory over Rodolfo Hernández, from the right, was 50,44% to 47,31% of the votes. Instead of seeking some kind of programmatic compromise with the opponent of the day before, the president reaffirms his willingness to face atavistic taboos in society, without falling into inconsequential adventures.

*Gilberto Maringoni, is a journalist, cartoonist and professor of International Relations at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC).

Originally published on Capital letter

 

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