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What you should know about the resignation of the Colombian Minister of Defense

In just one year, Minister Guillermo Botero went through the second motion of censure in Congress where several parties sought his resignation .

Guillermo Botero, former Colombian defense minister.

Guillermo Botero, former Colombian defense minister. / Photo: Colombian Presidency

LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Suárez

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Leer en español: Lo que debe saber de la renuncia del ministro de Defensa de Colombia

The vote in Congress for the motion of censure, although it seemed that it would also come out against Botero, was not necessary as the minister resigned a week before it took place.

Duque's government has been criticized, among other things, for bringing from the past a security model from the time of Álvaro Uribe. For this reason, since the beginning of the government period, the Minister of Defense was in the eyes of Colombians.

On Wednesday, November 6, pending the results of the debate on the motion of censure that had taken place the day before, Guillermo Botero announced the - expected by many - resignation. This news is given in the middle of a controversy that came to light in the debate, where Senator Roy Barreras, main rapporteur to demand Botero's resignation, presented a case that was not known. According to Barreras, the military action, that the government had described at the time as "strategic, meticulous and impeccable" for being a blow to the FARC dissidents, ended up killing 7 children.

This, far from being a triumph of the government, would fail to comply with protocols that would make the responsibility fall on the minister. Although at first this would not be the main argument, it was enough to cause such a stir in the eye of public opinion that ended in his resignation.

Read also: Massacre of indigenous people in Cauca Colombia

The announcement was made through the Twitter account of the Ministry of Defense in a press release that says: “Today in a meeting with the President of the Republic to discuss the current political situation, it was agreed that the most convenient was to resign from the position of Minister of National Defense”.

 

False positives and other controversies are back

In the 15 months he spent in office, Guillermo Botero had already been criticized and his resignation was requested from different sectors and political parties.

The comments made by the former minister during his period in the ministry are some of the most superficial facts for which the population and Congress asked for his resignation. He referred to the murder of social leaders as passion crimes was one of the first mistakes that cost Botero popularity. Subsequently, he also referred to a serious report of robberies in Vichada as "minor thefts and they are incredibly concentrated on the theft of clothing that is being extended on some ropes for drying."

But beyond that, the minister's management was controversial for reliving the feared false positives of previous governments. Going through the dead in combat to innocent youth, it was thought, was a matter of the past. With Botero, those feelings of fear, hopelessness and, above all, lack of confidence in the Armed Forces were revived.

A report published in The New York Times showed that the old days were returning. With "lethality orders," the Armed Forces had to double the results "at all costs." These orders came to light and revived false positives, where militaries, in order to meet objectives, took innocent lives.

This first big scandal was what led to the minister's first motion of censure, although it did not prosper and stayed only in one more report. Although for public opinion it was more than that.

For the second motion, the main argument, according to Senator Barreras in his presentation, was the increase in insecurity, rather than decrease, as the government sometimes boasted. According to El Tiempo, “homicide in the country marks a slight increase, even in cities like Bogotá. Between January and September, there were 8,612 murders, 2.1% more compared to 2018. And the situation of theft is overwhelmed throughout the country”. In addition to that in regions such as Catatumbo, Arauca and Cauca, criminal gangs and FARC dissidents have taken advantage of the lack of state control.

Another reason for this motion was the controversy over the death of a former FARC fighter, Dimar Torres, whose events have not yet been clarified but evidence of what happened recently was known.

According to El Espectador, "Torres was a demobilized who had bet on the construction of a society from the legality and the response was a vile murder at the hands of people wearing a uniform that represents all Colombians." The first response about the death of the former combatant was that he had died in the middle of a struggle, but the community was trying to report something different.

Months later and after many inconsistencies, Semana published some messages on WhatsApp that would accuse Lieutenant Jorge Armando Pérez Amézquita, of allegedly ordering the murder. "I need to avenge the death of the soldier, you have to kill" and "That man should not be captured, you have to kill him because he cannot stand fattening to jail" were the messages that would transform the official version.

The last controversy, which was the one that ended up achieving the resignation of Minister Botero, became known not before but during the debate. The information of Roy Barreras assured that in a bombing carried out by the Armed Forces in the fight against the FARC dissidents, in Caquetá in August, of those discharged, 7 were minors.

Read also: Colombia is attacking the peace agreement

Although Botero said that the Armed Forces were not aware of the presence of minors at the time of the attack, and that they acted within the framework of International Humanitarian Law, the day after the news was known during the debate, in media interviews it was stated from different sources that the Army did have knowledge of the presence of minors. The porter of the municipality of Puerto Rico, Herner Carreño, was the one who assured on several media that he had been himself and his office who had warned about the presence of minors upon knowing the intention of the operation.

The death of the minors has caused great indignation in the country, since it has also been criticized that the detractors of the Peace Agreement used the presence of children in the guerrillas as a flag to not support it, but now the minister had attempted against the lives of the same children they defended.

Ungovernability crisis

On the one hand, the fact that his minister has emerged in the midst of a process of motion of censure suggests more in depth problems of the government itself. In addition, taking into account the ministry that represented Botero is experiencing widespread violence, is fundamental and carries heavy responsibilities.

The motion of censure is a protocol in which the Congress of the Republic can make a figure of the executive branch resign. They "force him to resign" by appealing to political responsibilities breached in office. And although in this case it was seen that the decision was already practically taken (since both the opposition and neutral parties such as the Liberal, Radical Change and a sector of the U Party had already stated that they would vote in favor of the motion of censure), the previous resignation of the minister avoids that "forced" departure.

But that's not all, Duques government has been widely involved with these censorship motions. Not only did Botero go through the process for a second time in less than a year, but also the Treasury Department, Alberto Carrasquilla, went through the same situation. Although the motion against Carrasquilla did not prosper, it has left a precedent in the work of the minister, who remains widely criticized.

Also read: Former Minister of Justice in Colombia with judicial problems

On the other hand, Botero's resignation is not the first during this government. In May 2019, the then Minister of Justice, Gloria María Borrero resigned from her position amid the controversy of the liberation of Jesús Santrich, a member of the extinct FARC guerrilla. At that same time, the Attorney General, Nestor Humberto Martínez, also resigned and, despite the division of powers between the Executive and the Judicial, President Duque said in an official appearance that he regretted his resignation and criticized the decision from the judicial body to free Santrich.

After Botero's resignation, President Duque posted on Twitter that he accepted his resignation and thanked him for his work during the 15 months in the government for his "excellent results."

This statement comes at a bad time considering the controversy that led Botero to resign from his position. So the criticism did not stop on social networks. Public opinion and the opposition have used the resignation to highlight Duque's lack of governance during his tenure. Analysts say, on the one hand, that the resignation should had taken place before, since the minister should had done it months ago with the first scandals. On the other, they see it as a signal for the president to act to regain the legitimacy of his government.

During the controversy of the murdered children, a video was also viralized in which the president is asked the opinion about the bombing, to which Duque responds: “What are you talking about, man?”. As expected, the video has generated hundreds of criticisms that summarize the perception of many citizens before the apparent lack of presence of the president in the most important affairs of the country.

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