As if ongoing revelations of police corruption wasn’t enough, Colombia’s defense minister announced this week to investigate the unpopular institution for possible infiltration by the FARC, the country’s largest rebel group.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon announced a purge inside the National Police, the second announced purge within a month.
The latest purge is to eradicate infiltrated members of illegal armed groups like the FARC from the organization, said Pinzon.
“The FARC is searching for rotten apples among the police in order to hire them as informants. We want members of our institutions to be exemplary both in terms of ethics and discipline, and we react with all force if they don’t act that way,” warned the minister.
Gorgona terrorist attack
In his tirade, Pinzon was referring to the latest scandal in a series of many that have hit the National Police of Colombia in the past weeks.
On Thursday, the authorities captured Buenaventura Orobio Caicedo, a deputy commander of the police station in Timbiqui in Cauca state, south-west of Colombia, with 20 years experience. Caicedo, infiltrated by the FARC, has been providing the guerrilla with important strategic information for the past six months.
On November 23rd, on the Pacific island of Gorgona, the FARC rebels attacked a police station with machine guns and “tatuco” home-made projectiles, killing one policeman and injuring six others. The authorities established it was Caicedo who made the terrorist attack possible by spilling information to the insurgents. He was arrested and charged with aggravated murder, attempted murder, terrorism and rebellion.
“This should deter all those tempted to practice malfeasance, the scoundrel will get his punishment,” ranted Pinzon.
On his part, the chief of the national police, general Rodolfo Palomino argued on Thursday that there is “a very small percentage of officers involved in disciplinary offenses. Even if it is embarrassing, it is much better to root out such rotten apples and send out a serious message. Hiding corruption would be the worst.”
Small but glaring percentage
Although Palomino reassures of the anomaly of crime inside the police forces, recent events seem to suggest otherwise.
Shortly before the Caicedo arrest, on Friday last week the media reported a theft of at least 20 guns from a police school in the west of Bogota. According to reports, the suspect entered the arms depot, drugged the security guard with Scopalamine and escaped with 17 pistols and 3 rifles.
For now, the authorities have a sketch of one of the suspects, believed to have links with some police agents. Meanwhile, 15 officers will undergo a polygraph test.
On Thursday, the media shed light on another scandal involving Colombian police. This time the culprits were two officers from Ubate municipality in the Cundinamarca state in the center of the country.
According to initial information, last Sunday around 7:30 PM, two policemen on motorcycle patrol ran over an 11-year old girl in the center of the town, leaving the victim stranded the middle of the street without assistance. The officers later returned to the scene, but the girl had already been taken to hospital. The policemen claim they are not responsible for the crime, but the footage of the accident points their direction. The minor is in hospital and her condition is serious.
Earlier in November, a prominent narcotics police officer made a mockery out of the whole department when his involvement with drug-trafficking networks in the country was revealed. Nestor Enrique Maestre, the deputy commander of police in the Cauca state, was captured by the Prosecutor’s Office after a long investigation documented his close co-operation with a powerful drug-trafficking network responsible for shipment of tons of illicit drugs from the Caribbean to Europe.
Moreover, Maestre’s arrest is thought to be the tip of the iceberg. “His fall will make a lot of people nervous,” suggested one of the National Police officials in an interview with “El Tiempo” newspaper, hinting at possible further arrests inside the police.
In Cali, western Colombia, 29 people belonging to the gang “El Seño y el Patas” have been detained for theft of apartments and holdups two weeks ago. 14 of them were in the ranks of the local police.
The policemen were arrested on charges of conspiracy, embezzlement and bribery.
Only in the last month, police officers were involved in notable cases of brutality, illegal gasoline sales, psychological torture, on top of the crimes described above.
Lastly, during a massive arrest of people involved with the criminal gang “Los Urabeños” in Medellin in the last week of November, the authorities detained 19 police agents, allegedly involved with the organization. “All public functionaries caught in the web of corruption should be treated as Judases,” commented on the incident Palomino.
Investigators have accused the arrested officers of working for the Urabeños, who paid the police to turn a blind eye to criminal activity in the plazas and for facilitating drug trafficking.
At least 25 policemen have been arrested in the same internal corruption offensive all throughout November. According to the director of Colombia’s National Police, the institution has kicked off new operations for investigating police suspected of corruption and making them accountable.
“Since becoming Director General one of my priorities has been to guarantee the ethical and professional behavior of the Colombian Police,” Police chief General Rodolfo Palomino told El Tiempo.
“With a father’s pain, I will have to apply serious punishments to those driven by the demons of ambition, who have succumbed to the siren song of corruption,” explained Palomino.
The arrested officers are charged with conspiracy to commit crime, aggravated robbery, extortion, embezzlement, and bribery.