BOGOTA – Colombian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Thursday against censuring the defense minister for allowing the military brass to order field commanders to increase the number of criminals and militants killed, captured or forced to surrender.
The censure motion against Guillermo Botero was rejected by a vote of 121-20 in the House of Representatives.
“I am very satisfied,” Botero told reporters afterward, describing the failure of the motion as a “grand demonstration of solidarity” with his stewardship of the Defense Ministry.
“The rejection of the censure motion is a recognition of the work done by soldiers and police for the benefit of Colombia,” the minister said later on Twitter.
In a debate Monday that went on for more than six hours, opposition congresswoman Juanita Goebertus spoke of a loss of confidence in Botero due to his handling of the killing of a former member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group, which laid down its weapons under a 2016 peace accord.
Dimar Torres was killed April 22 by army Cpl. Daniel Eduardo Gomez Robledo.
Botero initially said that the ex-guerrilla died as a result of an altercation with the soldier, before subsequently acknowledging that Gomez Robledo murdered Torres.
The corporal was arrested and one of his superiors, Col. Jorge Armando Perez Amezquita, was forced into retirement.
More broadly, opposition members of Congress sought to hold Botero responsible for the actions of the army commander, Gen. Nicacio Martinez Espinel, who ordered troops to “double the number of criminals and militants they kill, capture or force to surrender in battle – and possibly accept higher civilian casualties in the process,” according to a May 18 article in The New York Times.
In the article, journalist Nicholas Casey wrote that Martinez issued the order due to frustration at “the nation’s faltering efforts to secure peace” 2˝ years after then-President Juan Manuel Santos’s administration signed the peace deal with the FARC.
Casey wrote that Colombia’s army was pushing “another incarnation” of a policy that had led to a widespread practice in the middle of the last decade known as “false positives,” in which unarmed civilians were killed by army soldiers and then presented as guerrillas killed in combat.
The Colombian Attorney General’s Office has investigated nearly 5,000 false positives cases involving roughly 1,500 troops between 1988 and 2014.
Nearly half of those cases are being handled by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), which was established as part of the 2016 peace deal with the FARC and tasked with investigating and adjudicating crimes committed during Colombia’s decades-old armed conflict.