Security and Violence in Colombia: the State’s Inability to Protect its Politicians

The country has tried to recover from the armed conflict that has lasted for more than sixty years. For this reason, from social leaders to former presidents have state security, which in many cases is inefficient in its duty to protect against potential attacks by criminal gangs, dissidents, and paramilitaries.

LatinAmerican Post | David García Pedraza

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Leer en español: Seguridad en Colombia: la incapacidad estatal de proteger a sus políticos

During the last years, Colombia has improved in the security rankings before the world. Although the nation no longer appears among the 20 most dangerous places to travel, it is still tagged with the word ‘reconsider’ when choosing the country as a tourist destination, according to International SOS. It is also true that six Colombian cities are among the 50 most violent in the world, according to a study carried out by the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice of Mexico last year. All this shows that the State still has a lot to do in terms of security and, even more so, because of the thousands of threatened people who demand state protection.

The need to protect people at considerable risk is such that in 2011 the National Protection Unit was created for this purpose. However, this body falls short of meeting the requirements of individuals who need state security. According to figures published by the newspaper El País, seven thousand Colombians have a security scheme thanks to the UPN, of which more than half are social leaders. That fact reaffirms the lack of guarantees to denounce and criticize powerful politicians and companies in the nation.

However, criticism of the lack of effectiveness and personnel in the UPN is added to the high costs of maintaining the security schemes for all the people who have it, from politicians, former presidents, members of the government to social leaders and witnesses in very specific court cases. Although it is understood that the State must guarantee the security of its citizens and individuals considered targets by organized crime, the excessive security that some have and that others lack is also criticized.

How Is It Decided Who Deserves Protection?

One of the most talked about characters when the issue of the security scheme is touched on is Álvaro Uribe, former president of Colombia, who ruled the nation for eight years and who was declared a military objective by the FARC from day one of his mandate. According to data from the National Police, Uribe’s security is made up of 152 bodyguards, 102 police officers, 80 soldiers, as well as vehicles and motorcycles, resulting in more than 15 billion pesos a year for his security.

This topic will be one of the most talked about, at least during the month of May, thanks to Salvatore Mancuso’s statements before the JEP. Mancuso assured that when Uribe was president, he withdrew the security scheme from the mayor of El Roble, Eudaldo Díaz, so that the paramilitary groups would assassinate him without any effort. It should be remembered that Díaz, a month earlier, had explicitly denounced threats and prophesied his own death to Uribe himself in a community council. This contrast between protected people and those who require protection demonstrates the inability that the Colombian State has had for many decades to protect everyone who needs it.

At the same time, another case of “waste” of security resources involves the current vice president Francia Márquez. She has been fiercely criticized by conservative and moderate public opinion for the “excess security” that she has for the use of a helicopter, which costs 2.6 million an hour, to travel to her residence in Valle del Cauca. This caused a stir among opponents of the Petro government. However, the investment in security that Márquez requires to travel to her native department, Cauca, which has more than 200 police officers, is endorsed and argued by the Prosecutor’s Office, since Márquez cannot enter this territory without state security due to constant threats. This generates a debate between ensuring the freedom of the vice president and getting measures to reduce costs.

It may interest you: The Paradox of Peace that Gustavo Petro Faces: the Tension at the Door of the Agreements

Beyond the Great Characters

According to what was stated by the National Protection Unit, headed by Augusto Rodríguez, from January 2019 to January 2023, more than 49,000 social leaders have registered requests for their protection and those of their families due to threats from armed groups and organized crime. Mostly, they are requested for issues related to environmental activism and freedom of the press. Attached, the agency stated that, in the same time frame, more than 14,000 security measures were carried out and almost 5,000 people were protected under this entity, all ex-combatants of the armed conflict. This in order to avoid systematic assassinations such as those carried out against the Patriotic Union in the nineties.

The UNP also highlighted its actions in protecting 152 journalists, 377 land claimants, 3,820 human rights defenders, and more than a thousand individuals belonging to indigenous, union, and Afro-Colombian associations. The so-called ‘unsung heroes’ for their contributions to denounce and improve the quality of life of their communities are the most protected and persecuted by organized crime in the nation.

The Price-Effectiveness Relationship of Security Schemes: a Latent Criticism

According to the national media RCN, the investment of each security scheme depends on the person who is being protected and what the UPN provides for it. Even so, the prices for 2022 were as follows: for the maintenance of a car, with fuel included, the price was around 12 million Colombian pesos, about 2,600 USD; an armored truck plus maintenance cost more than 18 million Colombian pesos, almost four thousand dollars; and the services of an escort can be between 2 and 2.4 million colombian pesos per month (400–500 dollars approximately), according to their rank.

Despite this wealth, the UPN falls short by failing to carry out its work, including its own director, Augusto Rodríguez, who suffered an attack last March. It could be considered that the inefficiency of this body shows that insecurity is cornering society more and more. In addition, those who are guaranteed state security could be in greater danger from ordinary citizens, considering that although Colombia slowly recovers from its violent past, it has not been eradicated.

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