Colombia’s president Ivan Duque is reconsidering the nomination of a hard-right ally to run the agency in charge of protecting threatened social and opposition leaders.
The conservative new president proposed to put Claudia Ortiz, a member of the radical wing of his Democratic Center party, in charge of the National Protection Unit (UNP) that ought to protect threatened citizens.
The appointment spurred a flurry of criticism that reminded the president that Ortiz has a history of insulting and stigmatizing the very people she would have to protect.
La señora Claudia Ortiz está “moralmente impedida” para ejercer como directora de la Unidad Nacional de Protección (UNP), miren y verán por qué pic.twitter.com/Yw5OETGcio
— Jorge E. Rojas R (@jerojasrodrigue) August 9, 2018
Hundreds of social leaders have been murdered since 2016 and more than 120 journalists received death threats this year alone, often amid fierce stigmatization, racism and sexism.
It is unheard of that at a time when social leaders are being systematically exterminated… the government decides to put the protection of social leaders and of many people who are at extreme risk … under the leadership of a person who has denigrated us in the social networks by calling us terrorists, criminals and drug traffickers.
Senator Ivan Cepeda
Following the controversy, Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez told press on Friday that Duque would reconsider the controversial appointment that spurred some leftist politicians to announce they would feel safer without the state protection agency.
“The president wants to give the country absolute peace of mind that there are security guarantees for all sectors… independent of their ideology or political affiliation,” Gutierrez said.
Unlike the leftist politicians, many social leaders did not receive death threats because of their ideology or political affiliation, but because they represent war victims, denounce corruption and organized crime, or promote peace.
According to the Ombudsman’s Office, more than 300 community leaders and human rights defenders have been assassinated since 2016, the year in which former guerrilla group FARC agreed to lay down its weapons after more than half a century of armed conflict.
Duque, a 42-year-old dynasty politician with no significant executive experience, took office on August 7 after defeating leftist anti-corruption Senator Gustavo Petro.
Since his election, the assassination of social leader accelerated to the point that, according to observers, one leader is murdered every day. Since’s Duque’s inauguration on Tuesday, seven community leaders, activists and school teachers have been assassinated.