‘Armed groups finance social protest’: Defense Minister will answer to the Senate for this remark

Semana (Colombia), September 14, 2018

Original article: https://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/ministro-de-defensa-dice-que-grupos-armados-financian-la-protesta-social/582944

Translated by CSN volunteer Buddy Bell

Minister Guillermo Botero referred to protests a second time, saying that he is sure that mafia interests external to the nation are undergirding the protests. The Attorney General and some other members of Congress condemned his statement. Botero will be referred to the High Commission, where he will need to defend his affirmation.

The Minister of Defense, Guillermo Botero, again raised goosebumps across much of the population by making declarations about social protest. This time, at the Chambers of Commerce Confederation, he said that he was sure that social protest is financed by armed groups and that is precisely the reason they must be fought and defeated.

“Therefore, every time when you see that they have shut down the Pan-American Highway or yesterday when many highways were blocked in Nariño, there are always organized mafias behind all this, true mafias, foreign mafias,” added the [Minister].

This joins with another rhetorical declaration [regarding social protest around the] first days of the Duque government, when [the Minister] asserted that social protest ought to be more regulated. Nevertheless, to speak in general terms of supposed financial support by illegal groups stigmatizes those who exercise their right to demonstrate. This is what many have pointed out, including the Attorney General.

“Exercising the right to protest is legitimate and necessary in a democracy. Linking that with a conspiracy of illegal armed groups puts demonstrators at risk and violates the principle of distinction under international human rights standards,” the Attorney General explained.

In the midst of this reaction, Minister Botero stated in an interview with Blu Radio that he was referring to certain cases where, effectively, armed groups had been present, but that he hadn’t been speaking about all protests. However, he maintained his position, explaining that there is a direct relationship between the zones with the most coca cultivation and the participation of armed groups in protests.

“The roadblock protests are occurring in coca cultivation zones, you can draw your own conclusion,” he said. Notwithstanding, he did not elaborate as to whether there has been any official probe to help substantiate this claim. “In indigenous communities there are illicit crops that can’t be eradicated because they require previous consultation, they have illicit production,” said the Minister.

After Minister Botero made his statements, Senator Gustavo Petro responded that they [signify] “backwards thinking” and that they try to “stigmatize the social movement with mafia ties, as if a free and autonomous citizenry were impossible in Colombia.” Furthermore, Petro questioned the ability of the minister to defend social leaders who he has threatened in the countryside.

Interjecting into the debate, [Alternative Democratic Pole] party senator Iván Cepeda announced he would request Senate review of the “mindless and irresponsible” statement. “We will summon the gentleman Minister of Defense before the High Commission of the Senate of the Republic to sustain his affirmation. We cannot permit social protest in Colombia to be criminalized, especially when social leaders are threatened and assassinated,” explained Senator Antonio Sanguino. The [Alternative Democratic Pole] has demanded that the Minister publicly retract his statement.

In addition, List of Decency party representative María José Pizarro classified the Minister’s declarations as “terribly dangerous” and called on Botero to retract them. “These statements make it so, in parts of the country like ours ,we will be targeted; leaders in certain parts of the country are assassinated, above all where there are groups operating on the margins of the law. We ask him to retract his comments [and that,] that if he has proof to present it, but not to implicate the entire social protest movement,” Pizarro told SEMANA.

However, Botero assured that he knew small-scale farmers are victims of narco-traffickers and that what he tries to do is protect life and the right of Colombians to mobility. According to security analyst Román Ortiz, what is being attempted is “to find an intermediary terminology that guarantees the right of protest but also avoids the infringement on the rights of other citizens, and avoids manipulations by criminal actors,” he said to SEMANA.

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