EL ESPECTADOR, January 30, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The meeting will take place after several disagreements about legal procedures being advanced by the administration.

Nearly a month and a half later, President Gustavo Petro and Attorney General Francisco Barbosa are going to meet. The appointment is planned for this Monday morning at the Presidential Palace.

It will happen after both have expressed differences on some legal aspects of “total peace”, which led Petro to say that Barbosa was right on “some things”.

At least that’s the way he expressed it on his Twitter account, when he admitted that the Attorney General was right on certain points. This Monday, however, they will meet to seek legal consensus after the refusal of the Attorney General’s Office to suspend arrest warrants for several bosses of criminal gangs.

This time, Barbosa will come to the meeting at the President’s Palace with the support of Merrick Garland, the Attorney General of the United States. Last week, in a visit to this country, he thanked Barbosa for the legal cooperation the two of them have had.

“The firm support of Attorney General Barbosa of the Rule of Law, at the same time respecting bilateral commitments, has been the cornerstone of our efforts in the area of application of the law in Colombia,” Garland said.

This newspaper has found out that Barbosa plans to reiterate to the President his intention to maintain the difference between a peace process with some dissidents and the Eln, and discussing submission for others, emphatically for the criminal gangs like the “Clan del Golfo” or “Los Pachenca”.

That being said, the Attorney General will repeat that he is committed to the peace—for which the administration has thanked him—but within legal rules. In fact, in this context, there have already been legal obstacles, such as those presented by the refusal to suspend 16 arrest warrants for the bosses of the “bacrim”[1] who do not have political status and some of them are even wanted for extradition, something that the administration said they were unaware of.

“The other criminals—the drug traffickers and the dissidents who did not keep their commitment to the Peace Agreement—must face retributive justice, they must serve prison sentences, but also effective prison sentences,” commented the Attorney General.

The disagreements between the President’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office

Two weeks ago, before making this appointment, people started talking about a train crash after the refusal to lift the arrest warrants, but Petro lowered the temperature of the controversy, and said there were only disagreements in concepts that he expected to clear up, while the administration based its petition on the delay and modification in Statute 418 of 1997.

Nevertheless, in recent days the tension reappeared. The Attorney General commented from Washington that, “Never before has there been a bilateral ceasefire with drug trafficking organizations; it’s like making a ceasefire with Pablo Escobar or the Cali Cartel. With ideas of that order, what we have to say is that these decrees must be changed because of what they imply for the effectiveness of the country.”

And on Saturday, Petro stated from Siloé, Cali, where he was meeting with the community and some young people that had led the protests in 2021, that the judges had been pressured not to release the more than 200 young people being prosecuted for vandalism.

“The judges were told that if at the hearings they decided to release the young people, they would be committing malfeasance in office. They pressured the judges not to release the young people and began denying one release after another,” claimed the President, and he added that those pressures came from some sectors of the government.

By the way, this has been another of the issues in the confrontation; the President wanted the young people in the “Front Line” who had not committed serious crimes to be released and, according to him, Statute 418 gave him authority to do it, something that was questioned by the Attorney General’s Office, and that was the reason for their December meeting.

That’s why the Monday meeting is so important. By the results of the meeting, it will be possible to measure how much advance there can be in the dialogs for peace and the dialogs for submission.

Regardless, they will have to consider that the administration is working on a law for submission that it hopes to have introduced in Congress in this session. It has even come out that they hope to be able to count on the opinion of the Attorney General’s Office before it’s introduced, which could be one of the subjects of the discussion.

Were there pressures on the judges?

According to the President of the Corporation of judges and Justices of Colombia (Corjusticia), Justice Hermens Darío Lara, the public order statute “does not contemplate anything for the “Front Line” because that is not a criminal organization of high impact, and is not a political organization.”

Therefore, he indicated, “The judges don’t pay attention to anything that is outside the Constitution and laws; that’s a malicious interpretation by the administration.”

But Lara stated that there had also been pressures from the other side, from the side of the Attorney General’s Office and the Inspector General, who announced investigations of judges to find out if they are taking a position, referring to the case against the Co-ordinating Judge from Paloquemao, who signed release orders for two boys from the “Front Line”.

“What was very explicit is that not only the Inspector General’s Office but also the Attorney General’s Office have pressured the judges and a democracy cannot permit that. Nobody can be above a judge when they are about to decide an issue, not the President, not the Inspector General, and not the Attorney General,” he declared.

In that regard, for the President of Corjusticia, things are not only as Petro announced, because the pressures on the Judicial Branch “are on two tracks, for the yes and for the no.”

[1] “bacrim” is a shortening of “bandas criminales” or criminal gangs, used at a time when the government was claiming that there no longer were any paramilitaries.

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