By Enrique Santos Calderón, CAMBIOCOLOMBIA, July 31, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The systematic and treacherous murder of Police Officers makes us ask ourselves—one more time—what country we are we living in? Are we so accustomed to the violence that such an unbelievable slaughter doesn’t disturb us? Thirty-seven young officers shot to death without penalty—18 in the month of July alone—is an atrocity that doesn’t take place in other latitudes. Even more inconceivable in a society that supposedly is making progress toward peace.

The administration blames the Clan del Golfo, the Defense Ministry increases the rewards, the Commander of the Police talks about “holdouts”, and President Duque mentions each one of the bosses of the criminal gangs to warn them that they will be captured pretty soon. Talking to the wind, which reminds us of recent reports of victory. Holdouts that kill Police Officers every day? That threaten us with another “armed stoppage” like the one that paralyzed broad segments of the coast very recently?

The answer to this criminal barbarity cannot consist in the same rhetorical convictions by high government officials, or in calls by high-ranking officers for the people to support the soldiers and police. The solidarity shown by the citizens has been massive, and we saw that in the many tributes paid to those who have fallen, but that is not sufficient and, also, is not the problem. The country wants convincing reactions, it wants implacable punishments for both the planners and those who actually carried out the killings. And even though many hitmen and gang bosses have been killed or extradited, nothing has happened that might destroy this ingrained and persistent criminal phenomenon.

That won’t be accomplished by this administration. It’s run out of time. In the coming week, Duque will be gone, but he leaves the problem behind, along with the memory of his ambiguous postures on how to take the lead against these illegal armed groups. Not just with the Clans del Golfo, Rastrojos, Pelusos, and other mafioso groups and subgroups that he couldn’t defeat, but with those that tried to be politicians but now are FARC dissidents, leftovers from the EPL or the everlasting ELN. With those last, there was never –because they didn’t believe in it, or they didn’t permit it—a serious strategy of negotiation and demobilization.

It’s true that the proliferation and atomization of the armed gangs that are trafficking, extorting, and murdering all over the country is such that not even the government’s security forces know for sure who’s who. Their methods are getting to be more similar, and they cross paths frequently in their areas of operation which would confuse anybody. The recent killing of Patrol Officer Leidy Sánchez in southern Bolívar was described by the administration as a reprisal by the Clan del Golfo in their “Plan Pistola” to pay back for blows they have suffered (the extradition of alias “Otoniel” and his sister among others). But people that know the area underscore the influence and the historical presence that the ELN have there. The indications that that group is disposed to start talking with the Petro administration makes you think that they aren’t part of “Plan Pistola”, although with them you never know. How do we understand that in 2019 they exploded a car bomb that killed 23 cadets in the Police Academy when they were preparing to renew the dialogs and had a delegation in Havana?

This coming Sunday, Iván Duque says goodbye to the Presidency after four years without any advances toward national reconciliation. Now it’s time to pay attention to the “total peace” that the incoming administration has announced. It’s a complicated objective but one longed for by a country saturated in violence. Some say that will be the foundation for the term. Petro is very familiar with this issue; he has been in the heart of the armed conflict, and you would expect that he knows everything about our long and uneven history of forty years of peace processes.

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