Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos announced Tuesday that Armed Forces commander General Leonardo Barrero will be replaced amid an accumulation of corruption, wiretapping and human rights scandals.
Despite published recordings implicating Barrero in the embezzlement of millions of dollars in defense contracts, the former commander general, the president clarified, “is not leaving for any act of corruption,” but rather for “disrespectful expressions” he made on tape regarding the Prosecutor General.
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Barrero is one of a number of upper-level military officials featured or mentioned in recorded conversations with imprisoned Colonel Robinson Gonzalez del Rio, who is currently on trial for two murders and is believed to have played a role coordinating the corruption ring from prison.
Originally published by Semana last Sunday, the recordings portray an extensive conspiracy to embezzle defense contracts. Some of the money stolen by military officials was reportedly directed to soldiers, like Gonzalez, being tried in connection with the military’s former “false positives” practice, in which civilians were murdered and disguised as rebel combatants in order to boost kill statistics.
Another official mentioned in the recordings, General Javier Enrique Rey Navas, head of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces, presented his letter of resignation Monday, but Barrero is the first member of the military to be disciplined since the story broke last weekend.
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Immediately following the revelations, and even after his dismissal was made public, Barrero publicly defended his innocence, saying “none of the audio published by Semana magazine can prove that [I have] participated in any act of corruption.”
Indeed, in a speech addressing the scandal Tuesday, President Santos said the former general is not being asked to leave for any illegal activity, but rather for comments he made demeaning the Prosecutor General, charged with investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of false positives, and indicating his intention to “create a mafia to discredit prosecutors.”
“I considered it appropriate and necessary to make a change in the military leadership. The general commander of the Armed Forces is not leaving for any links to corruption,” said Santos.
Santos, who called the Armed Forces the “backbone of democracy,” said the Ministry of Defense would be implementing a “re-shuffle” of military command in light of the revelations made public by Semana.
“There are those who profit from or allow corruption,” said Santos, “and we must act sternly and forcefully against them. It is the only way to defend institutions and in this case such an important one as the Armed Forces.”
“It is very important in these cases to get to the bottom of the issue, nip the problem in the bud and act with the utmost severity, but also with due fairness and due justice, always working to protect an institution and in this case, to protect our military, which has given us so much.”
General Barrero will be replaced by General Juan Pablo Rodriguez, according to the president. Further disciplinary actions are expected to be announced later Tuesday.