Duque’s former chief of staff replaces Colombia’s late defense minister

Defense Minister Diego Molano (Image: President's Office)

Colombia’s President Ivan Duque appointed his former chief of staff, Diego Molano, as defense minister on Tuesday.

Molano, one of the far-right president’s closest allies, will replace Carlos Holmes Trujillo, who died of COVID-19 last week.

The new defense minister has been an outspoken supporter of Duque’s political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe, and a critic of the Supreme Court after it ordered Uribe’s detention last year.

Molano, a business administrator, has no experience in matters related to defense or national security, but was in charge of talks with the leaders of the 2019 anti-government protests, the largest in more than four decades.

The new defense minister additionally joined his late predecessor to coordinate a response to protest against police brutality that resulted in the Bogota Massacre during which police murdered 13 people in September last year.

Molano, who is now in charge of the military as well as the police, inherits major challenges from Trujillo as the future of the Colombian government’s security and defense policies is uncertain.

Following the demobilization of the FARC, Colombia’s largest guerrilla group until 2017, a multitude of illegal armed groups began vying for control over the countryside.

After since office in August 2018, Duque has been reluctant to implement the peace deal with the now-defunct FARC and prioritized a military offensive to curb booming cocaine production.

The National Army and the National Police, however, found themselves weakened by corruption and have been unable to provide basic security in the remote regions once controlled by the now-defunct FARC.

Duque’s hardline counternarcotics policy was strongly supported by former US President Donald Trump, but has received no explicit endorsement from US President Joe Biden, who took office in January.

Biden’s newly appointed Secretary Of State Antony Blinken did explicitly express his administration’s support for peace last week.

Molano will have the mammoth task of developing and executing security and defense policies that are in line with Duque’s hardline agenda without risking US military support.

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