Colombia’s President Ivan Duque on Wednesday presented a new hard-line security policy that virtually ends possibilities to negotiate with illegal armed groups.
Duque’s “Security and defense policy for legality, entrepreneurship and equity” is a 180-degree turn of the peace policies of his predecessor, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos, and was presented together with the military leadership and US ambassador Kevin Whitaker.
According to the president, the policy is “designed to re-establish the principle of authority and move from military and police control to institutional control of the territories” in the countryside where illegal groups and regional clans are the de-facto authority.
Rural communities have been living in terror because of the mass killing of community leaders and human rights defenders in these areas that are traditionally either neglected or abandoned by the state.
ELN now an “organized crime organization”
Duque stripped the ELN of the political status it was granted in 1997, effectively denying Colombia is suffering armed conflict and making peace talks with the 55-year-old guerrilla group illegal.
According to Duque’s new policy, all illegal armed groups are organized crime organizations.
No illegal armed group can negotiate political concessions and can only negotiate judicial benefits in exchange for their collective demobilization after they end all illegal activity and concentrate their troops, according to Duque’s newly announced policy.
Colombia’s most powerful illegal armed groups
- National Liberation Army (ELN)
- Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC / Clan del Golfo)
- Libertadores de Vichada (Los Puntilleros)
- Bloque Meta (Los Puntilleros)
- Popular Liberation Army (EPL / Los Pelusos)
None of the illegal armed groups currently active in Colombia have indicated they would accept such rigid conditions.
In fact, the AGC has already said that it would be increasing their presence inside the country’s urban centers, claiming the authorities are failing to provide basic security in much of the cities.
The return of the paramilitaries?
Duque also said he would revive the highly controversial “citizen participation networks” that involve civilians in authorities’ fight against crime.
The president had already changed the country’s gun laws that would allow citizens that have the approval of local military commanders to arm themselves.
These citizen participation networks were criticized during Uribe’s two presidential terms (2002-2010) because of the participation of paramilitary death squads in these networks.
In Medellin, the stomping ground of paramilitary activity, the prosecution last year found that local organized crime group Oficina de Envigado had access through police intelligence through the citizen participation network Duque wants to expand.
Critics oppose employing civilians in the provision of security, one of the most basic of state obligations, because it could make them a target of illegal armed groups or organized crime structures.