A controversial decision by the United States to revoke visas of some of Colombia’s top judges triggered a wave of criticism over the weekend.
Weekly magazine Semana reported on Friday that Constitutional Court magistrates Antonio Lizarazo and Diana Fajardo were informed their visas had been revoked and were asked to prove they had no criminal investigations against them.
The judges previously refused to have dinner with US Ambassador Kevin Whitaker after the ambassador’s alleged “meddling” over the country’s war crimes tribunal.
Neither judge has been publicly implicated in any criminal investigation, but have been key in shielding the country’s peace process from US intervention.
According to Semana, the US also withdrew from four projects that sought to modernize the court and had already been promised funds by the embassy.
Supreme Court magistrate Eyder Patiño, who has been mentioned in an ongoing corruption investigation, also saw his visa revoked.
The consequences of not obeying Washington
Much to the dislike of Washington, Colombia’s high courts have complicated the extradition of alleged war criminals on drug trafficking charges in attempts to prioritize the rights of victims of Colombia’s armed conflict.
One lawmaker saw his visa revoked after he told the press that Whitaker was “pressuring” lawmakers to limit court powers that ban extradition without evidence of a crime.
The revoked visas appear to be the latest and most controversial attempt by the US government to maintain its privilege to request the extradition of suspected drug traffickers without providing any evidence.
Outgoing ambassador Whitaker came under fire last month after he allegedly threatened an end aid to Colombia unless the congressmen ended their defense for victims of the armed conflict and allowed the extradition of alleged war criminals without evidence to support drug trafficking claims.
Whitaker wanted the lawmakers and the Constitutional Court to remove limitations on the extradition of war criminals, despite the implied violation of victims’ rights who would not see their alleged victimizers in court.
Duque caught in the middle, “pro-peace” lawmakers furious
Following the internal commotion about the revoked visas, the Constitutional Court President visited President Ivan Duque to talk about the issue, according to Semana.
Duque, who has enough trouble dealing with his US counterpart Donald Trump already, has publicly remained quiet on the controversy
Vice-President Marta Lucia Ramirez said that “we have a great respect for the justice system and the decisions that are taken must be respected.”
The VP, who has openly supported Washington’s efforts to allow the extradition of alleged war criminals without evidence, added that the government “respects other countries’ decisions when they are taken with objective and transparent criteria.”
“Pro-peace” lawmakers, who form the majority in Congress, vehemently rejected the latest apparent attempt to sabotage Colombia’s transitional justice system that could reveal war crimes committed by US soldiers or with US tax payers’ money.
“The [US] government should demand respect for [Colombia’s] sovereignty and the principle of separation of powers,” opposition Senator Antonio Sanguino [Green Party] was quoted as saying by W Radio.
According to the chairman of the Senate’s Peace Commission, Senator Roy Barreras [U Party], the move to revoke magistrates’ visas for apparent political reasons was “unheard of” and called for solidarity with the court, according to the radio station.
Government coalition Senator Ciro Ramirez, whose father was sentenced to prison for his ties to drug traffickers, defended the US government, saying that “when there is interference in a judicial cooperation agreement the United States should take sovereign decisions,” according to W Radio.
War crimes tribunal rejects “undue pressure”
The war crimes tribunal issued a statement in which it said to “respect the autonomy of states and their diplomats. but rejects any decision or circumstance that could serve as an undue pressure mechanism regarding judicial decision.”
As part of Colombia’s peace process, the constitutional court allowed the country’s war crimes tribunal to request evidence in the event US authorities requested the extradition of an alleged war criminal on drug trafficking charges.
Hundreds of thousands of war victims were deprived of justice because their alleged victimizers were extradited, in some of the most important cases without a warrant.
Extradition forms part of the Colombian government strategy… to frustrate the rights of victims, and promote impunity for those most responsible for the crimes committed by paramilitary groups over the past 25 years: politicians at local, regional and national level, members of the Colombian Armed Forces, State officials, corporations and large landowners.
Whitaker’s crumbling reputation
Since Whitaker was appointed by then-President Barack Obama to take charge of his country’s embassy in 2014, the US diplomatic mission in Bogota has been marred by scandals and policy failures.
US President Donald Trump tried to replace Whitaker after taking office in 2017, but his first nominee couldn’t get Senate approval. Trump waited until May this year to make a new nomination.
Meanwhile, cocaine production in Colombia — one of Washington D.C.’s main concerns in the South American country — increased to all-time record highs.
According to US media, the regional DEA chief has been under investigation for allegedly using public funds to visit prostitutes while other DEA officials have been accused of drug trafficking.
Last year, the US plunged Colombia’s peace process into an unprecedented crisis when it requested the extradition of former guerrilla leader “Jesus Santrich” despite evidence indicating the FARC leader had been framed by a DEA agent.
The White House announced earlier this month that it would replace Whitaker with Republican diplomat Philip Goldberg once the personnel change had been approved by Congress.