By Alejandro Arboleda Hoyos, EL COLOMBIANO, January 17, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Barbosa said that he doesn’t have to obey Petro because “I’m not a subaltern of his”. The administration is looking for a way to sort out the “total peace”.
The Attorney General of Colombia made it clear that his arm would not be twisted, and held firm—for the second time—in his refusal of the petition by the administration of Gustavo Petro to lift the arrest warrants for 16 bosses of the criminal groups Clan del Golfo and Los Pachenca. The President is trying to approach them to begin sketching a path to their submission to justice in the so-called “total peace”.
That request—made official through the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace—set off a legal storm between two camps: on one side, the Presidential Palace—and in the Congress—they insist that Petro has the legal authority to request that the arrest warrants be lifted; and, on the other side, Attorney General Barbosa, who gave them a resounding NO, arguing that to evade the arrest of those criminals could constitute a crime in the opinion of United States authorities.
The initiative was supported by the President of Congress, Senator Roy Barreras, who stated that the Attorney General’s arguments against lifting the warrants, which don’t deal with the leaders of groups with political status (like the ELN), are “indispensable” to maintain the differential treatment between the insurgent armed groups and the drug traffickers.
“The insurgencies that originate politically can receive legal treatment in the transitional justice system. The drug traffickers and their organizations must go to the ordinary justice system. The government can facilitate the collective submission with benefits, but that requires a statute,” noted Barreras.
Has that messed up “total peace”?
In his refusal statement, Attorney General Barbosa stated that he was not obliged to obey Petro’s request, because he is not “your subaltern”, and he warned that, if he did it, he could be committing the crime of obstruction of United States justice. For one thing, that refusal interferes—temporarily—with the High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda, embarking on direct contacts with the spokesmen for the Clan del Golfo to explore an eventual submission.
In the tents of Petrism, Barbosa’s version is contradicted and they insisted that the President is authorized to carry out this process, according to Paragraph 2 of Article 8 of the Public Order Statute. “This article supports the decision (by Petro), so this obstinacy by the Attorney General is incomprehensible; he doesn’t want to proceed according to the law,” argued Senator Iván Cepeda of the Historic Pact Party.
In addition, the President was trying to be prepared, and he created, in December 2022, through Decree 2655, the “High Level Agency” assigned to characterize the armed groups, which translates to arguing that he didn’t request the lifting of the arrest warrants on a whim, but rather, he was advised by those who make up that agency: the Defense Minister, Iván Velásquez, High Commissioner Rueda, and the Director of Intelligence, Manuel Casanova.
Meanwhile, just after this setback with the Attorney General, the administration received another endorsement from General Henry Sanabria, Director of the National Police. He ordered the suspension of the operations against the bosses of the Clan del Golfo, as part of the bilateral ceasefire announced by Petro, but he clarified that he could not interfere with the capture of their members.
“The Police operations are suspended, that’s to say, the searches are, but if a person with an outstanding warrant that has not been suspended is identified, of course the arrest will be made, regardless of which armed group it is,” detailed the Director of Police.
From another direction, the administration is mobilizing its legislative cards to hasten passage of the Submission Statute bill that would permit more alternative actions to be taken to approach that kind of criminal group that does not have political status. From this bill, we learned that the administration received legal assistance to evaluate alternative penalties similar to those that were offered earlier to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Their commanders were allowed to receive—if they didn’t return to crime—a sentence no longer that 8 years in prison, in the framework of Peace and Justice.
Senator Ariel Ávila of the Green Alliance Party, confirmed to EL COLOMBIANO that the idea is to act on this bill in the extra sessions that will take place in February. “It will be very similar to the ‘gringo’ model. The bandit furnishes the whole truth and some money, and in exchange, the government gives him a reduced sentence.”
This discussion leaves open the debate about the authority the President has and his alternatives to act to get the policy of “total peace” going. And meanwhile, there are expectations for the results of the extraordinary meeting that is going to happen this Tuesday in Caracas, Venezuela, of the delegations of the government and the ELN to try to overcome the atmosphere of crisis.