By Sylvia Charry, CAMBIOColombia, March 22, 2024


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

In an interview with CAMBIO, Luz Adriana Camargo says that she will not be an opinionated Attorney General who contributes to polarization. She said that her administration would not “go after” people and she rejected the rumors about people “messing around” with the election of the Attorney General. And she asked the former Acting Attorney General, Martha Mancera, to step aside.

CAMBIO: We’d like to start the interview with a scene that we revealed last week. A day before you led the voting in the Supreme Court of Justice, President Gustavo Petro and the then-Attorney General (Acting) Martha Mancera held a secret meeting in the apartment of the Minister of Justice, Néstor Osuna. Sources say that one of the subjects of the conversation was the possibility of changing the eligibility list. Five days later, the day you were selected, one of the candidates asked that her name be removed from the list. What can you say about that episode?

Luz Adriana Camargo: Not much. You’re speaking of informed sources, but I know that the President and the then-Attorney General (Acting) corroborated that there was a meeting; they mentioned the subjects they discussed, and neither said they had talked about the eligibility list. That’s a guessing game now, and it doesn’t add anything to the process.

CAMBIO: They did talk, but they gave contrary versions . . .

L. A. C.: Here the only thing we know for sure is that, with or without difficulties, the Supreme Court of Justice made a decision, and they chose me from the list that the President had given them. That cycle is over, and it doesn’t do the country any good to talk about suppositions.

CAMBIO: But it’s that there have been a lot of rumors about the election. The former candidate Ángela María Buitrago said in an interview with Los Danieles that she was pressured to go and talk with people outside the Supreme Court of Justice so that somehow they would have the power to make her the chosen Attorney General. Did you receive any pressures, or did you have to look to third parties in order to be elected?

L. A. C.: That isn’t true. I didn’t receive any pressures and that talk seems to me like an act of disrespect to me, to the candidates, and to the Justices. There is a sector that considers the Attorney General to be a token for the President because he sent the list of eligibles, and another sector thinks the office is a little puppet who made deals under the table in order to be elected. Those ideas seem to me to disrespect the Attorney General’s Office and the Supreme Court of Justice.

CAMBIO: It’s that in the interval before your election, there were a lot of rumors. There was talk about the Justices waiting for some kind of payoff for their vote. Did that happen?

L. A. C.: No. This speculation is bad for the country. The only thing it does is undermine the process, which concluded in a reasonable time and applied very high standards. I invite people to have confidence in the process. If another candidate had a different experience, I regret that. Everyone has to reflect on their presentation and their strategy. I’ve often found with two parties that when a court is undertaking the processing of business, they ask for a private hearing. There is nothing unusual or humiliating about that. Just a resumé isn’t enough. How are the Justices going to know me if they don’t get to know me?

CAMBIO: That means you’re in accord with the existing model for selection of an Attorney General?

L. A. C.: This system of election guarantees an equilibrium that few systems have. Normally, attorney generals in Anglo-Saxon common law systems are an executive department, and they are chosen directly by the President. In Colombia, since we are very democratic; we’ve decided that the Attorney General’s Office is a branch of the judiciary, and the Attorney General Is chosen by a mixed process where the President submits a list of eligible candidates, and the Court decides. It’s a very balanced system. What is it that’s considered unfair in a system that tries to achieve a balance?

CAMBIO: You have succeeded to the office of a very controversial Attorney General, to say the least. What are you going to do that’s different?

L. A. C.: I don’t want to be an Attorney General that’s in the media all the time. The Attorney General should not be an opinion leader; she should be facilitating the work of her officials, who have freedom and autonomy. I don’t want to be an Attorney General that’s putting my fingers in the legal cases. Attorney Generals don’t work on the cases. I will be kind of like the manager of a big company, who has to put all of her efforts, with her management team, to see that the prosecutors out in the regions can do their work. I want to be an Attorney General who guarantees everyone’s rights, and not one who is politicized. An Attorney General’s Office that is technical, and neither helps nor prejudices anybody. One that’s not at the service of any powerful group. A responsible Attorney General’s Office.

CAMBIO: In your presentation to the Supreme Court of Justice, you said that one of your big changes in the Attorney General’s Office will be in the announcement of statistics. Why?

L. A. C.: For a while, there was talk about explaining things, which is a strange word. We were talking about solving cases, not explaining them. The outgoing administration set the agency’s goal as filing charges, meaning that prosecutors could consider a case “explained” when they filed charges; I think that sets a low bar. After the charges are filed is when, as a prosecutor, I have to think if I can build my case, if I can negotiate, are there more charges, is there preclusion, do I go to trial? That should be the prosecutor’s goal. The agency’s goal. Right now, cases are failing for reasons that are embarrassing.

CAMBIO: Talking about the changes that are necessary, recent history has shown that the Attorney General was not independent. How will the people regain confidence?

L. A. C.: The important thing is doing the job, but also knowing how to communicate. The problem with the legal system is that we don’t have a good formula for communicating, and the citizens are left feeling unprotected. There’s a little bit of social anxiety, and it has to do with the way we communicate to the country the results of what we do. The idea of putting a padlock on all of the information has harmed the legal system. We don’t have to describe our methods or our investigations, but we ought to be reporting how the cases are progressing, so people don’t think we’ve been sleeping on the job. I hope to have a better relationship with the media so we can take away the anxiety about what we’re saying to them.

CAMBIO: But what I’m telling you is that people have the perception that the Attorney General is in the pocket of the President who put him or her on the list of eligibles. There are currently pending cases that affect the two most important political leaders in the country, Gustavo Petro and Álvaro Uribe. What message are you sending about that?

L. A. C.: My message is one of moderation. We have to turn down the volume of the statements that people are making, do our job seriously, responsibly, and thoughtfully. Those cases have assigned prosecutors before the Court, very experienced senior prosecutors. We have to expect that those cases will be handled with the highest skill, even if the results are not what one may have preferred. Certainly, in these four years, decisions have been made that have pleased some and not others, and vice versa. If I can help make the polarization disappear, in the sense that nobody will feel persecuted, I will feel that I’ve done a good job.

CAMBIO: To summarize your answer, I’ll ask you the question more directly. Are you going to be Petro’s Attorney General?

L. A. C.: I’m the Attorney General for the people of Colombia.

CAMBIO: How was your first meeting with the President as Attorney General-elect?

L. A, C.: Formal. We talked about the reform of the legal system. We also talked about the need for reforms in the accusatory criminal justice system which is part of the negotiations the administration has initiated, headed by the Minister of Justice, Néstor Osuna.

CAMBIO: Do you favor the accusatory system?

L. A. C.: I work with the accusatory system. It’s the system we have.

CAMBIO: A lot of people think that the Attorney General lacks controls, and they’re talking about a tribunal of assessors. What do you think about that?

L. A. C. I would probablysay that a system of controls is appropriate for an agency as powerful as the Attorney General’s Office.

CAMBIO: Before you were inaugurated, we learned of some names of members of your work team, and the criticism wasn’t late in arriving. Like in the case of your Deputy Attorney General, Gilberto Javier Guerrero. How did you choose the person that would be your second in command?

L. A. C.: I had to choose a Deputy Attorney General very early, at a time when my application was not yet going forward, and people were saying that my Deputy Attorney General might be the chosen Minister of Defense, Iván Velásquez. I thought of Gilberto Guerrero at the first moment. They’ve been telling a lot of lies about him, and very few truths. He comes from Pasto, is an excellent legal scholar, a university professor, was a judge, an Auxiliary Justice. He was part of the group of us who were prosecuting the “parapolitica” [1] in the Supreme Court of Justice. The accusatory criminal justice system commenced at that same time; he was one of the people that taught the system, and to many of us he became our chief advisor. Later, when he applied to be the prosecutor assigned to tribunals, he was selected and remained in first place. He could choose where he would work, and he asked to remain in Cali, and that’s where he is now. Vivian Morales appointed him Sectional Director. At that time, he met Martha Mancera, as did all of the prosecutors working in Cali, but he’s not part of her inner circle. Gilberto resigned during the Néstor Martínez administration, and he didn’t hold any position in the Francisco Barbosa administration.

CAMBIO: Speaking of former Acting Attorney General Martha Mancera, what role will she have in the Attorney General’s Office?

L. A. C.: Dr. Mancera holds a provisional post as a prosecutor assigned to a Tribunal. She had a career post, but she resigned that to be Deputy Attorney General. She now has a pension resolution. Frankly, I would expect that Dr. Mancera would retire. She was part of the outgoing administration. Every Attorney General comes in with a team, and she carried out her role. Independent of criticisms or applause, I think every Attorney General brings in their team.

CAMBIO: The man who was the coordinator assigned to the Court, General Ramón Jaimes, is awaiting the same . . .

L. A. C. I don’t know what his situation is. I would prefer to make decisions calmly about cases because I also don’t want to start a witch hunt; I don’t want to create a panic among officials.

CAMBIO: You selected Hernando Barreto Ardila to be Coordinator of the Attorney General’s assignments to the Supreme Court of Justice. Why?

L. A. C. Yes. I’m curious to know whether if I choose someone from the Supreme Court, people will say that the Justices are getting their share, and if I choose someone from the Attorney General’s Office, they will say it’s the outgoing administration’s share. The exercise of choosing your team is a hard one. Hernando Barreto is a balanced man. I worked with him at the Supreme Court, he’s been my neighbor, it was with him I learned to do appeals. He’s a university professor; he worked in the first administrations of the Attorney General’s Office. He’s a scholar of the law.

CAMBIO: Let’s go to the other names in your management team.

L. A. C. I can only go ahead with Gabriel Sandoval, who will be the prosecutor assigned to Organized Crime. Right now he’s a manager in Antinarcotics. I met him in ’87 because we were working together in my first position, in Superior Court #19. I was trying cases, and he was the Clerk. And, although I can’t remember the name, in Criminal Finance I worked with a person who has a profile different from that of Luz Ángela Bahamón. She wasn’t a lawyer but worked more in finance and taxation. I want to change the focus.

CAMBIO: Let’s talk about your strategy. We’re told that you are thinking of federalizing the Attorney General’s Office. What’s that all about?

L. A. C.: That’s a good way of saying it. Yes, I think so. The Attorney General’s Office has policies that are too centralist, and this country has a phenomenon of complex criminality that doesn’t respond to uniform patterns. In my administration the Section Directors will have total relevance, but that implies making a very good chart of management indicators.

CAMBIO: That sounds great in theory, but there’s an important risk, especially in areas that are coopted by criminal gangs. How will you confront that reality?

L. A. C. We have a phenomenon of cooptation of authority in several areas of the country, and it’s probable that the Attorney General’s Office would not be an exception to that. Because of that, it’s key that the prosecutor appointed to serve out in the countryside will have to work closely with the Sections. We will do some serious mapping with the Section Directors and thus face those realities. We’re going to strengthen the office of internal disciplinary control, and we’re going to be demanding about agency goals.

CAMBIO: Whom will you assign to serve out in the countryside?

L. A. C.: Deisy Jaramillo, a woman who has served in the Attorney General’s Office for decades.

CAMBIO: What will be your position on the Constitutional Assembly that President Gustavo Petro has mentioned?

L. A. C.: The Attorney General will not be issuing that kind of opinion. That’s how train wrecks get started. It should be respected if the Executive proposes that initiative, and if other authorities like it, or don’t like it, I don’t think that adds to the discussion.  

CAMBIO: What’s going to be the position of the Attorney General’s Office with regard to “total peace”?

L. A. C.: Prudence will be our position. I think the gangs ought to submit, by their nature, we don’t have to ignore the fact that many of them are veritable armies, criminal organizations; they wear uniforms, carry weapons, exercise territorial control. That could lead us, in the legal framework, to another kind of scenario. I’m not closing off the gangs, but these are issues that require a great deal of study. In the scenario of “total peace”, the President, as Head of State, has jurisdiction to define those scenarios to achieve the re-establishment of public order. From the Attorney General’s Office, I will do good investigations against criminal organizations, even with arrest warrants suspended. The obligations of the Attorney General’s Office are unceasing.

CAMBIO: Do you agree with suspending arrest warrants?

L. A. C.: It’s the law that permits that. It has nothing to do with whether I’m open to it or not; it’s what happens. What will not happen is the suspension of investigations.

CAMBIO: On the subject of their submission, the President is asking the Attorney General’s Office to study mechanisms for collective submission. What are you going to do?

L. A. C.: We have a large battery of individual submissions that’s really old. We would have to review all of that legislation to see whether it could be adapted without any legal modification. I haven’t looked at it in detail; we will be reviewing it. I’m trying to use good advisers in three areas: the special jurisdiction for peace, transitional justice, and “total peace”. I have to have a team that’s very strong and very consistent.

CAMBIO: Do you have any example?

L. A. C.: I’ve been in the first four Attorney General’s Offices, and I really liked the one under Alfonso Valdivieso. He modernized, he knew how to listen, and he was a very good leader. He was a person who knew how to participate in the investigation of the 8,000 case, which was important in uncovering narco-political relationships, which concluded with the “parapolitica”. He was a very attentive manager. I’m not familiar with the subsequent administrations.

CAMBIO: Valdivieso resigned in order to run for President, and that has been a burden that passed on to several administrations. Are you interested in the Presidency?

L. A. C.: Never. I’m nearly 60 years old, and I have no aspirations apart from being a good Attorney General; to be remembered as a respected, fair, and well-balanced prosecutor who modernized, who was helpful, who didn’t “go after” people, who supported, but also didn’t excuse. Presidential aspirations are like a curse for an Attorney General’s Office, and I don’t have that curse.

[1] “Parapolitica” is a short term that was used in connection with prosecution of politicians who worked closely with the paramilitaries

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