By Gustavo Gallón,* EL ESPECTADOR, February 23, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The fact that General Leonardo Barrero belongs to criminal groups, according to what the Attorney General’s Office has discovered about him, is an extremely serious fact. It’s not just limited to his personal responsibility, but rather, it involves just as much those who have supported him for years. It’s hair-raising to know that someone who between 2013 and 2014 could boast of having maximum authority over Colombia’s Armed Forces, as the Commanding General of the Military Forces, has been out committing crimes before, during, and after holding that responsibility, in close relation with the AUC, the Clan del Golfo, and other paramilitary groups.
His most recent activities were not limited to an isolated instance; he was the maximum coordinator of a network of military, some retired, many of them high-ranking officers, who ever since 2019, at the least, made sure that operations of purchase, processing, and exportation of cocaine in Nariño were carried out by the illegal group “La Cordillera.” That’s why they called him “El Padrino” (“The Godfather”).
But that would not have been possible without the support he also received from the most important figures in the administration and in his party over the years. Barrero was put in charge, by President-Elect Iván Duque, of being the connection to the Ministry of Defense. Later, in November of 2018, the Commission for the Development of the Timely Action Plan (PAO in Spanish), supposedly for the protection of human rights defenders, social and community leaders and journalists (Decree 2137 of 2018). Now-retired General Barrero was named as its Director. How dangerous is that? That Commission was unnecessary, because the National Security Guarantee Commission (CNGS in Spanish) already existed for that purpose. It was headed by the President and made up of members of the administration, government control agencies, and civil society groups. (Decree 154 of February 3, 2017) But the PAO Commission didn’t include members of civil society, and the administration had blocked the functioning of CNGS in practice.
Naming Barrero as the one responsible for the safety of social activists was criticized severely by non-governmental organizations, because of his background, which connected him with false positives and with stigmatizing statements about campesino organizations, especially the macabre recommendation he gave one to of his protegés, Colonel González del Río, who had organized a “mafia” against the prosecutors who had also investigated him for false positives.
The Interior Minister at the time, Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez, rejected and ignored the criticism, arguing that the General had not been convicted, and she was presuming his innocence. She also indicated that he wasn’t the Director, but just a staff member of the PAO, but with delicate responsibilities. Her successors in the Ministry, Alicia Arango and Daniel Palacios, maintained the same posture. According to the Civil Code, they set it up that way, not just negligence in eligendo (making the choice) but negligence in vigilando (in keeping watch).
Barrero was a candidate for Governor of Cauca in 2015, with the enthusiastic support of Álvaro Uribe, and a member of his list for the Senate in 2018. He failed in both tries, but it was evidence of his close relationship to the former President.
That the legal system would deactivate this “godfathering” may be a dream, but it’s crucial to achieve it, because the nightmare is unbearable, and abhorrent.
*Director of the Colombian Jurists Commission