EL ESPECTADOR, December 25, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

With the controversial Citizen Security Law, the Colombian government, represented by the Iván Duque administration and its majorities in the Congress, is just demonstrating that it has no answers to this country’s problems. Among all of the valid criticisms that have been suggested about the enactment that was passed with clanging cymbals and beating of drums, as if it were some great advance, perhaps the simplest is the most important: the law will be useless in reducing criminal activity. It’s common now that governments make use of punitive populism so they can feel like they have taken some measure against insecurity, but increased inflexibility doesn’t diminish criminal activity, and on the contrary, the citizens’ lack of confidence in institutions will deepen. Presenting what was adopted as a triumph is a tacit admission of the government’s inability to adopt measures that would be useful.

If we listen to the Interior Minister, Daniel Palacio, the enactment approved is a revelation. “This initiative is thinking of the ordinary citizen, the citizen that goes out to get on the Transmilenio, the citizen who wants to get on a public bus to go home or get to work, the citizen that’s robbed of his cell phone, the citizen that’s a victim every day of some kind of crime. It furnishes judges with heavier tools to punish the violent people that are disturbing our tranquility. Likewise, it’s aimed at heightening consequences for those actions that affect all of the citizens, so that the wrongdoer always goes to jail, and won’t remain free.”

So the great innovation of the citizen security law is . . . increasing penalties. From 50 years we get to 60 years. As if a difference of ten years would be enough to dissuade the criminals. What should we do with a legal system that’s collapsed, riddled with impunity, and with inhumane penitentiaries? The administration’s answer is to send more people to prison for a longer time. What’s so new? The administration and its Congress members are insisting on something that’s useless. The same thing can be argued about penalties for recidivism. Lot’s of noise, not much result.

On the other hand, what they did achieve was to continue to deepen social division. In a year in which the social explosion took over the streets and showed the lack of confidence in our institutions, there was no structural police reform, but they did approve, enthusiastically, an increase in penalties that appears to hunker down on the side of the Armed Forces, without opening the door to any kind of reflection.

We’re back to square one, but now with a law that has sections that may be unconstitutional, which continues to stigmatize demonstrators, that won’t generate the promised results, and that stinks of authoritarianism. That’s not how you rebuild confidence in institutions or protect the Armed Forces. Not much is said, by the administration or by the Congress about how the social fabric of citizens and the authorities is an essential aspect for guaranteeing everybody’s security. Much less about investing political capital in what needs to be done to strengthen that fabric.

They’re going to say that those who oppose the law are defending terrorists. In fact, a number of Members of Congress supporting the administration did say that. It’s the old punitive populist trick, so you don’t have to reflect and make complicated decisions. It’s enough to accuse the other side of having nefarious interests. A bad end of the year for Colombia.

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