Guillermo Botero is Colombia’s staunchly conservative defense minister, and well known for his long-time influence in his country’s politics and private sector.
He has had close personal relationships with two of Colombia’s last three presidents and has influenced policy from the outside for years.
Since becoming defense minister in 2018, he has frequently been the subject of controversy and has become known for his opposition to the peace deal.
Early life and family
The minister was born into a privileged family that has held significant political influence for generations.
To start with, his father was the late Lorenzo Botero, founder of business federation FENALCO.
The conservative lobby group has since promoted business-based solutions to Colombia’s problems and has been hugely influential in influencing government policy.
Botero graduated in Law from the prestigious Andes University having already obtained a degree in political science.
He married at a young age to anthropologist Margarita Jaramillo, the daughter of Hernan Jaramillo, a conservative politician and businessmen who held cabinet posts in two conservative governments in the 1940s.
His son Andres inherited some of his father’s influence and was a commander in the armed forces between 2006 and 2010 and unsuccessfully ran for the Colombian Senate in 2014.
In 1979, Botero made his first major foray into business by setting up a flower exportation empire. Despite massive damage from flooding in 2011, he still owns vast quantities of land and the business continues to run.
On top of an accommodation business, he is also the founder of Consimex, a Colombian shipping and customs giant. It was through this business that he first found himself in frequent contact with military personnel due to the security procedures involved in this line of work.
FENALCO and political influence
Having joined the board of directors of his father’s organization in 1985, he began to head it in 2003.
As FENALCO’s staunchly conservative director, Botero became one of former President Alvaro Uribe‘s favorite go-to guys for economic advice.
During his tenure between 2002 and 2010, the president also named Botero as his representative to the board of the Bogota Chamber of Commerce (BCC) and health intermediary La Nueva EPS.
Botero became a leading critic of the government of Juan Manuel Santos after Uribe’s successor fell out with his former boss over criminal investigations against Uribe allies and Santos’ decision to begin peace talks with the FARC.
In 2014, this criticism became outright hostility when Botero decried Santos eventually successful attempts to make peace, chastising the president for being too lenient towards FARC guerrillas.
Santos retaliated and removed Botero from the Nueva EPS and BCC roles given to him by Uribe. FENALCO has denied their then-director ever opposed the peace process.
Three months after his removal from the BCC, the organization voted him back in.
Because of Botero’s fierce opposition to Santos, the president abstained from attending the 2014 FENALCO assembly, an act usually customary for sitting presidents.
When Duque, Uribe’s latest protegee, announced his candidacy, Botero threw his weight behind him. A source close to Botero told political website La Silla Vacia that he successfully orchestrated meetings between Duque and important business leaders to rally corporate support for Uribe’s candidate.
When Duque was elected in June 2018, Botero turned down Duque’s original offer of interior minister, later accepting a new offer for the post of Defense minister.
This was a controversial call, partly due to his hostile attitude towards the peace process that began in late 2016 after Santos and the FARC agreed to end decades of armed conflict.
However, Botero’s biggest problem was his complete lack of experience in military affairs other than his having a high-ranking son in the security forces and close personal relationships with leading military figures.
When Duque announced Botero’s appointment as Defense Minister, the president-elect cited Botero’s primary merit was his “great general experience and love for Colombia.”
Even before taking office as Defense Minister in August 2018, Botero became the center of controversy claiming that social protests were financed by the mafia and were only legitimate if approved by the government.
He then vowed to end the counternarcotics policy that was part of the peace process with the FARC, but was forced to backtrack because of his obligations to execute the 2016 peace deal he had rejected for years.
However, his effective failure to execute the policy and his choice to allocate resources to the controversial forced eradication of coca, the base ingredient of cocaine, has been widely rejected for its lack of effectiveness and extremely high social cost.
Furthermore, multiple failed attempts by the minister to cover up the torture and murder of a demobilized FARC guerrilla by a military unit in northeast Colombia in April 2014 triggered the opposition to file a motion of no confidence.
This pending motion received increased support after foreign media began reporting on the army order to double the number of combat kills and captures, raising fears the National Army could return to executing civilians to meet military targets.
To add to the growing controversies, United Nations experts on extrajudicial killings accused the Duque administration of “inciting violence against the demobilized FARC” and urged the president and his cabinet members to “take immediate steps to implement the peace agreements” the “uribistas” had opposed for more than five years.