Globe, Human Rights, Latin America, Politics

Institutional crises

No Colombian institution remains free of a situation of severe crisis. Corruption, nepotism and well-known public links with drug trafficking mafias affect a significant number of politicians and civil servants in every sphere.  

 

Juan Diego García

 

It is not by chance that public opinion polls show deep mistrust in these institutions, blaming them for the difficulties suffered by the majority of the population and the deep social inequalities that are also evident in every area of daily life.

Universal ills, undoubtedly, but here they are so intense and the general impunity so notorious that the people cannot but harbour feelings of mistrust in the present and, above all, of little or no confidence in the future.

Little or nothing then, to boast of, in contrast with the almost idyllic image of Colombia offered by local and international media, and by the same authorities that ceaselessly praise their democracy as exemplary.

But there is one institution that, until recently, seemed exempt from all criticism and received a very positive appraisal in the opinion polls: the armed forces and the police.

Today, however, they emerge as linked to each and every criminal practice of which the other institutions are accused, now including the current scandal of the rape of young girls from indigenous minorities by uniformed officers.

Acting outside of the law and committing crimes against humanity (massacres, extrajudicial executions, etc.) is no longer something that only those really responsible for paramilitary criminal violence and its beneficiaries are accused of (big landowners, transnational mining corporations, politicians at all levels and the like).

Through so-called “false positives” (murdering innocent civilians so as to make them appear  to be guerrillas killed in combat for which they win official awards), members of the military and the police have been exposed, and the image created through the official marketing that presents soldiers and police officers as “national heroes” has begun to crumble.

In the context of this image-making, it remains difficult to identify those  who are cowardly killing defenceless people, especially from the poorest sectors of the population.

And there are not ten or twenty “false positives” – they number thousands and confirm the long-established accusations of social movements, human rights organisations and left-wing politicians, who for decades have denounced that uniformed officers violate constitutional rights and use torture and other illegal practices, including extrajudicial execution, or put more bluntly: murder.

The complicity of many or at least some officers with the paramilitary groups is another blemish on this institution.

Corruption has also reached the barracks. There are many reported cases that particularly involve middle-ranking and seni

or officers, entrusted with directing the vast resources which the State allocates to repression.

This blatant plundering has come to light through recent high-profile cases, such as the unlawful purchase of (second hand) helicopter parts that benefitted a group of officials. How will something like this impact the morale of those who have to go into the battlefield in these helicopters? What will those who risk their lives think, knowing that they do so while others are getting rich at their expense?

It was recently discovered that other officials were selling arms to common criminals (paramilitaries included) and a general was accused of supplying weapons and provisions to guerrillas.

And not because of any ideological identification with the insurgents, but for pure personal gain.

Another ongoing scandal involves cases of spying directed from the barracks on opposition politicians, journalists, union leaders, social activists and human rights organisations.

It is still not known for sure who ordered this illegal spying and for what purposes. Given the national tradition, few believe that the source and sinister purposes of such practices will ever be discovered. Nor is it the first time that public institutions have engaged in such espionage. But previously, this was the work of the so-called “security agencies” and not the military, as it is now.

Members of the police and military cannot officially participate in politics. However, as part of the institutional crisis, various generals are being allowed to openly comment on national policy – in violation of the principle of neutrality so persistently highlighted by the authorities. But this is no more than a formality.

The military has its subtle means of letting the government know what it likes and does not like; and the government knows this and acts accordingly.

And when the military command is not happy with things, it has no problem moving to direct action, effectively through a military coup.

One only has to recall how Belisario Betancur was removed from power when M-19 guerrillas took over the Palace of Justice.

The military “resolved” the problem within three days by way of a massacre (which included a significant part of the judiciary), then “returned” power to a self-proclaimed reformist president who defrauded locals and foreigners alike.

The current scandal of the rape of young indigenous girls (more than 100 soldiers and officials are defendants) has only confirmed the deep decay within the country and again justified the rural communities, social activists and human rights defenders who, for many years, have been denouncing how the rape of women and young girls is part of the armed forces’ modus operandi.

At least this is now confirmed by statistics from reputable bodies, which show how this type of violence is particularly practised by the paramilitary, but also in significant percentages by the military and police (and also seemingly by insurgents, although to a much lesser extent it has to be said).

A very topical issue – the presence of hundreds of United States officials who have just arrived in the country, supposedly to combat drug trafficking – represents the icing on the cake.

A very bitter cake for the uniformed officers who sincerely believe that they are defending the nation, that they embody the interests of the entire national community, that they are the primary guarantors of its sovereignty and that they must, however, submit themselves to the “advice” of these mercenaries, to the “counsel” of these outsiders (who include Europeans and Israelis) who are defending their own interests and ignoring the law itself.

As for rape, there are known cases of United States soldiers and officials who have committed such abuses in the country, but who evade the law because an agreement with the United States exempts them from all responsibility.

In practice they remain unpunished: the rapists are transferred to the United States, put through “exhaustive investigations” and declared “innocent”, or at best, confined to their barracks to “serve their sentence”.

(Translated by Rebecca Ndhlovu – Email: rebeccandhlovu@hotmail.co.uk)Photos: Pixabay

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