By Juan Diego Quesada, EL PAÍS, Bogotá, April 30, 2024

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The President reported that two technical inspections by his administration discovered a loss of weaponry that had ended up in smuggling networks.

Wearing the baseball cap he wears everywhere that projects his image as commander in chief of the Armed Forces, which he is, Gustavo Petro did not hesitate this Tuesday to denounce a gigantic case of supposed corruption in the Colombian Army. The President declared in a press conference at the Presidential Palace, his place of residence, that two inspections carried out by his administration uncovered theft at a grand scale, of ammunition, grenade launchers, and missiles.

“One of the most crucial goals is to separate the Armed Forces from any criminal association. The zero-corruption policy is essential to contribute to the tranquility, coexistence, and the very construction of the nation. Within the policy of struggle against corruption, we carried out two inspections of our own. One was in Tolemaida, and the other one was in the 10th Brigade; we looked at the inventories of weapons and explosives, to see what was there and if they were using them,” Petro explained. Then he read an inventory of the missing weapons, which adds up to more than a million between munitions, explosives, and other artilleries.

The administration’s theory—both the most obvious and the most plausible—is that the missing weapons had ended up in the smuggling market. That direct accusation, from the mouth of Petro, is having enormous repercussions. The Colombian Army, after decades of fighting against the guerrillas, has left a large sector of its members with an anticommunist and antisubversive mentality that was strengthened with Uribismo, and the seepage of a separate political thought that can only be compared with what took place with Chavismo in the barracks. Petro’s arrival in the Presidency was viewed with suspicion by that segment of the Armed Forces. For two decades, Uribismo—the movement of ex-President Álvaro Uribe—limited the concept of Petro to a former guerrilla who had confronted the soldiers themselves. The now-President was part of M-19, but he spent less than a decade with them, never played a relevant role, nor was he really a “man-at-arms”. Politics marked his life much more, and he has dedicated his life to that, talking about peace for 30 years. Nevertheless, the prevailing idea among them was that he was a violent man, a terrorist, an enemy of Colombia.

This concept, inoculated by massive propaganda for the soldiers, didn’t only affect the troops, but also the high-ranking officers. In an act that was criticized, the Commander of the Colombian Army, General Eduardo Zapateiro, a representative of the fiercest wing and a warrior of the Armed Forces, resigned his position a month before Petro’s inauguration so he wouldn’t have to walk at his side. The message was clear: Petro was an intruder, a usurper. The votes he received didn’t matter; nor did the democratic Army that carried with it the possibility that a leftist who had historically remained at the margin of government institutions could integrate himself into the system. Zapateiro later wrote a book that reflects a reductionist thought process. The case is that this abyss that existed between the governor and the military has been being reduced as the President’s term has proceeded, and hasn’t yet presented episodes of confrontation.

Petro and Defense Minister Iván Velásquez—one of the most solid Ministers in an administration that’s working for change—have tried to impose a focus based on peace and human rights that contrasts with the prior warlike mentality, He nurtures it with the same intensity seen in prior administrations. In any case, after the decades of internal confrontation, the Army enjoys a great deal of autonomy and doesn’t allow too much interference, in spite of the fact that it has lost some of the independence that it had for decades, when the idea of a civilian Minister seemed like heresy. The case that Petro is now putting on the table—for which there are still no detailed documents or explanations to the press—questions the management of the barracks very directly. Corruption in the Army is nothing new, but it has usually been protected by high-sounding speeches and patriotic flag-waving. The denunciation came after an incident that might affect the administration. On Monday, nine members of the Army died in a helicopter accident in southern Bolívar Department. An Army Major, a Lieutenant, two Sergeants, two Corporals, and three soldiers were traveling in the helicopter. Petro and Velásquez lamented their deaths. The opposition accused the administration of neglecting the maintenance of the craft that had been manufactured in Russia; the administration explains that this one in particular had been checked recently and was in good repair.

This entry was posted in News and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.