EL ESPECTADOR, February 5, 2021


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The President, who was in the area that has once again been threatened by paramilitary groups, used the trip to insist that the former guerrillas who committed crimes against humanity should not hold public office.

In February of 2000, the population of El Salado and vicinity was the victim of one of the worst paramilitary massacres in the history of this country. More than 100 people were killed at the hands of the Self-Defense Forces. Fifteen days ago, the specter of the paramilitary violence returned to haunt the area as people heard of the recent threats against the population of El Salado. Some of the messages even recalled what happened 21 years ago, so as to terrorize the recipients.

Two weeks after that happened, and hearing the complaints from different sectors, President Iván Duque went there to analyze the security situation. After the meeting, the chief executive made a speech where, beyond referring to the current security problem, he used it to criticize the JEP and to insist that the former guerillas, who may be sentenced for crimes against humanity, not be allowed to hold public office.

In his speech, the President recalled that El Salado is “a community that has lived through the violence in many forms, violence that has left deep scars of sadness” and it is a place in which “there have been devastating events of violence.” In the same way, he mentioned the activities of the now-dead FARC leader Martín Caballero as the “executioner of these communities.”

Later on, he also mentioned the crimes committed by Carlos Castaño, the boss of the Self-Defense Forces. “The painful events of the year 2000 will always be a judgment on him,” President Duque commented, referring to the massacre at El Salado that occurred between February 16 and 22, 2000, the one mentioned at the beginning of this story.

On those events, he stated that there was “no difference between a guerrilla massacre and one by the self-defense forces.” He described both as “vile crimes that deserve all of the punishment and weight of the law.” He used that introduction to ask that the paramilitaries that are arriving from the United States, after serving sentences for drug trafficking, not be set free, but rather that they pay “the penalties for their crimes in our country.”

Later on, Iván Duque went back to criticizing the JEP: “As much as they talk about transitional justice, the most important thing is that justice be translated into effective and proportionate penalties. That is the commitment that Colombia assumed when it approved the Statute of Rome.”

Immediately after that, he pronounced his opinion on the first charges by the transitional Court for the crimes of kidnapping by the former leaders of the FARC: “If they are trying here just to file charges, good for them, but what we need is to see penalties,” the President repeated.

On that point, the President went back to demanding that those who are convicted of crimes against humanity not be allowed to hold offices representing the public. That would directly affect several of the Senators of the Commons Party, given that some of the crimes of which they are accused are of that character.

“If the victims see their victimizers in positions of power, we are revictimizing them and that is an affront to the very families that have been lacerated by the weapons of the criminals,” commented Duque, and later added: “We request and we demand that the penalties be proportionate and effective. That’s why we have requested the United Nations verification mission to extend its mandate.”

This is not the first time that President Iván Duque has made that kind of request. Only two days ago, while signing a law that eliminates the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against children, he asked that the former guerrillas who admit responsibility for recruitment of children also not be allowed to possess any elective office. That petition is unsupported, because the Havana Agreements established that those who admit their crimes and collaborate with the justice system may not be disqualified politically. That is one of the basic points: exchange weapons for politics.

Commitments in the matter of security

Besides his demands against the former guerrillas who are being reincorporated, President Duque committed to strengthening the efforts of the Armed Forces in the Montes de María area, above all in El Salado. Even though he didn’t say what form that would take, he stressed that there would be emphasis on the area that once again has been threatened by paramilitaries.

Along the same lines, Duque announced different investment programs under the premise that “security goes along with social investment.” Among those points is accelerating the process of paving the roads in the district (corregimiento). In the same way, he promised to involve the health centers, the educational offerings, and that there would be productive projects that the Agriculture Ministry has been working on. Those projects, according to the President, will have the accompaniment of the “integrated activities of our Army.”

“It pains me that the men and women leaders have suffered,” stated the chief executive, but later he concluded: “Today your President is here to guarantee that we will walk the talk. May it be walked with love for this community.”

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