The first week of Colombia’s new chief prosecutor, Francisco Barbosa, has been marred by concern he has more interest in party politics than the rule of law.
The appointment of Barbosa, one of the best friends of President Ivan Duque, had already raised concerns with legal experts because of his lack of experience in criminal justice.
The appointment and subsequent withdrawal of top prosecutors added concerns that the Prosecutor General would be “using the prosecution to intimidate and silence” government critics.
Barbosa was called back, however, and was forced to replace questionable political allies he had put in top positions with actual prosecutors
The depoliticization of Barbosa’s justice
Barbosa’s attempts largely failed; the Vice-Prosecutor General and four of the prosecution’s most important unit directors were removed from their position within days of their appointment.
Top officials appointed and retired in Barbosa’s first week
- Vice-Prosecutor General Juan Francisco Espinosa (replaced by Martha Mancera)
- Delegate to the Supreme Court Gabriel Jaimes (replacement unknown)
- Anti-corruption chief Jose Salomon Strusberg (replaced by Myriam Medrano)
- Transitional Justice chief Zayda Barrero (replaced by Salomon Strusberg)
- Counter-narcotics chief Ricardo Carriazo (reinstated)
The pawns and their demise
The resignations of Barbosa’s initial prosecution chiefs made the chief prosecutor’s lack of independence evident, and showed how his attempts to politicize justice received fierce resistance.
Barbosa’s deputy resigned hours before his inaugaration and was replaced by Martha Mancera, a career prosecutor with ample experience in forensic science and organized crime.
Counter-narcotics chief Ricardo Carriazo was reinstated after a phone call from the United States embassy, according to Noticias Uno.
Barbosa’s delegate to the Supreme Court, a close ally of Colombia’s notoriously corrupt OAS ambassador Alejandro Ordoñez, withdrew on Thursday after he had come under fire over his expressed extremist views.
Barbosa’s initial anti-corruption chief was moved to transitional justice, presumably because he has been investigated by the Inspector General’s Office over alleged corruption in the granting of public contracts in Bogota.
Strusberg was replaced by Myriam Medrano, the prosecution’s former Organized Crime chief with 17 years of experience.
The withdrawn transitional justice chief’s main merit seems to be her loyalty to Duque’s patron former President Alvaro Uribe, she had zero experience with justice.
Red flags over political persecution are waving
Colombia’s chief prosecutor has only been in office for a week, and red flags are waving everywhere after Barbosa has shown more interest in party politics than the rule of law.
This government is already showing to be the same as those of Uribe, persecuting and demanding the heads of journalists, harassing critics and even using the Prosecutor’s Office to intimidate and silence.
Colombia’s former intelligence chief and columnist Ramiro Bejarano
Contrary to the Supreme Court, Barbosa has refused to investigate corruption claims against Duque allies made by fugitive politician Aida Merlano.
Meanwhile, a growing number of complaints are surfacing over how the prosecution is allegedly inventing terrorism charges against peaceful anti-government protesters.