Duque and Colombia’s defense minister cornered over spying scandal

President Ivan Duque and Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo. (Image: Foreign Ministry)

President Ivan Duque on Saturday refused to acknowledge he knew about Colombia’s biggest wiretapping scandal in more than a decade and vowed “zero tolerance” against those involved.

According to weekly Semana, Duque sacked former National Army commander General Nicasio Martinez in December last year because the general had lied about illegal spying on a Supreme Court magistrate, politicians, journalists and human rights defenders.

Colombia’s army spied on court, politicians and journalists: report

Duque goes on his denial routine

Talking to the press, the president insisted Martinez wasn’t fired, but resigned voluntarily citing “personal motives.”

He gave me personal motives that I understood, which is what I made  public.

President Ivan Duque

Duque made the controversial general commander of the armed forces in December 2018 despite evidence implicating that Martinez was involved in the homicides of almost two dozen civilians.

The promotion sank the army in crisis, particularly after at least five other top army generals were removed over corruption and human rights scandals.

Notwithstanding, Duque insisted he had “zero tolerance for any conduct by members of the Public Force that violates the Constitution and the law.”

If there are members of the security forces who have violated the Constitution and the law we will sanction them ourselves. We ourselves are going to denounce them, and this must be my spirit as the supreme commander of the military forces.

President Ivan Duque

Defense minister announces internal investigation despite alleged cover-up

In a press statement, Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo told press that the president ordered the raid on one of the implicated army compounds on December 12, the day that the army was warned about an impending raid.

Trujillo also said that Duque “requested that the relevant internal investigations” that began in December last year “be initiated immediately.”

If the participation of members of the public forces in acts that are not in accordance with the law is proven, those responsible must answer individually before the Colombian justice system.

Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo

According to Semana, the army’s inspector general failed to show up on December 13 when counterintelligence officials who were supposed to carry out the raid allegedly ordered by Duque helped disappear evidence of criminal activity.

The army compounds weren’t properly raided until December 18 at the order of the Supreme Court despite Trujillo’s alleged attempts to stop this.

The mounting complaints Colombia is wiretapping journalists

Duque and Trujillo in the corner

With both lawmakers and the Supreme Court on top of the case, it is unclear how Trujillo believes he can carry out an internal investigation into a scandal implicating himself and his party.

The Prosecutor General’s Office announced an investigation as soon as they return from their recess on Monday. They, however, are also implicated and previously denied the spying confirmed by reported participating officials who talked to Semana.

The minister is lucky that Congress is on recess until March 16, because the lawmakers who reportedly were victims of the illegal spying are furious.

These aren’t “a few rotten apples.” This is a para-state strategy that takes us back to dark times.

Senator Roy Barreras (U Party)

The last time Colombia saw a wiretapping scandal of this size unfolded in 2008 when Uribe was president. This scandal led to the incarceration of the country’s former spy chief and some of the former president’s closest aides.

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