Colombia’s polemic defense minister appeared before Congress on Monday to defend his attempts to cover up the murder of a former FARC rebel, corruption allegations and a controversial army order to double combat kills and captures.
Defense Minister Guillermo Botero had been called to appear before the House of Representatives by the leftist opposition, which has filed a motion of no confidence against him.
This motion has little chance of success, but the debate did give Botero’s critics the chance to expose the controversies the minister accumulated during his first 10 months in office.
- Botero is politically responsible for an army order to double the number of combat kills and captures that was withdrawn after The New York Times reported on it.
- The defense minister tried to cover up the homicide of a demobilized FARC member by a military unit
- Botero is owner of a private security company supervised by the defense ministry
The debate preceding the no confidence vote “seeks to demonstrate that Minister Botero does not comply with the conditions to lead one of the most important ministries, and even less during a post-conflict period,” said Representative Mauricio Toro (Green Alliance), who kicked off the opposition’s interventions.
FARC Representative Marcos Calarca, who was engaged in an armed conflict with the military until the former guerrillas signed peace in 2016, said that the army directive demanding to double military results and lower the requisites to engage in combat “generate us fear we are returning to things we believed we had overcome.”
Liberal Party Representative Juan Carlos Losada decried far-right ruling party Democratic Center for accusing him of providing intelligence to FARC dissidents when lawmakers traveled to northeast Colombia to investigate the murder of a demobilized guerrilla earlier this year.
Losada was joined by the leftist opposition lawmakers who accused the minister of trying to cover up the murder that has since led to homicide charges against one soldier and a colonel.
Lastly, opposition lawmakers blasted the minister over a column published in weekly Semana on Sunday demonstrating that Botero was a member of the board of directors of a private security company that is overseen by the Defense Ministry.
Aware that there was no majority to sack the minister, Representative German Navas (Democratic Pole) sarcastically told the minister to “go ahead, because Congress has already absolved you.”
Botero accused Semana columnist Maria Jimena Duzan of slander and claimed that he is in the process of dismantling the private security company causing the conflict of interest.
“This is a company I began to liquidate on August 7. We were letting go valuable personnel. Today it only has one client left and I’m waiting for that contract to expire. Do you call me corrupt for that?” the minister rhetorically asked.
In regards to the killing of FARC member Dimar Torres, the minister said that “from the beginning I was clear that” the version of events he relayed “was the version of soldier Gomez. I was also clear that the soldier was under investigation, which falls under the responsibility of the Prosecutor General’s Office.”
In defense of the withdrawn army orders, Botero reiterated that the instructions from the Defense Ministry have been to respect Colombians’ human rights and international humanitarian law.
“We have a clear policy to support judicial entities so that there will be no more homicides by the public forces,” the minister added.
According to weekly Semana, the house is expected to vote within two weeks on the motion of no confidence, which is likely to be rejected as it cannot count on the support of President Ivan Duque’s minority coalition and many of the lawmakers of the center right voting block.