Colombian Congress debates motions of censure against defense minister Diego Molano

Two motions of censure have been presented against defense minister Diego Molano by the opposition for the unprecedented level of violence and human rights violations committed by national security forces in the past four weeks of the national strike

May 25, 2021 by Tanya Wadhwa
A protest was held outside Colombian Congress on Monday May 24 to pay homage to the victims of police repression during the 25 days of national strike. Here a protester lays wreaths with the victims names. Photo: Mauricio Alvarado

This week, the Congress of Colombia will debate and vote on two motions of censure presented by the progressive opposition parties against defense minister, Diego Molano, for overseeing the brutal repression against peaceful protesters and numerous other human rights violations committed by national security forces in the past 26 days of the national strike. Yesterday, on March 24, the Senate began the trial. Today, on March 25, the same procedure will begin in the House of Representatives. The voting in the plenary session of both the houses is expected to take place at the end of the week.

In the past four weeks of anti-government protests, the Colombian state has unleashed an unprecedented level of police and military repression against the demonstrators. According to the human rights organization Temblores, between April 28 and May 21, a total of 2,905 cases of police violence were registered. These included 855 victims of physical violence, 43 deaths, 1,264 arbitrary arrests, 575 violent interventions, 39 victims with eye injuries, 153 cases of shooting with firearms, 21 victims of sexual violence and 6 victims of gender-based violence.

Several national and international social and political leaders as well as human rights organizations such as the United Nations, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have expressed their concerns regarding the excessive, disproportionate and arbitrary use of force and implementation of military assistance programs to suppress social protests.

Senators from the progressive Colombia Humana, Comunes, Alternative Democratic Pole parties, center-left Green Alliance party and Colombian Liberal Party and the centrist Social Party of National Unity, have already expressed themselves in favor of the motion of censure.

Senator Ivan Cepeda Castro of the Alternative Democratic Pole, in conversation with Prensa Latina, stressed that “Colombia is suffering a real bloodbath, a situation of massive and systematic human rights violations, with dozens of deaths, hundreds of wounded, tortured, disappeared people and raped women. Against this reality, the Defense Minister says that the government has treated social mobilization with a ‘democratic spirit.’” He added that “in the debate on the motion of censure, we will have the opportunity to present all the necessary arguments for you to leave the Defense portfolio.”

Yesterday, after the plenary session, through a series of tweets, Cepeda reiterated that “Minister Molano, neither the tax reform was the “law of sustainable solidarity”, nor is state terrorism against peaceful mobilization a “democratic spirit”.” He added that “the victims of ESMAD and the police, Minister Molano, do not need your “solidarity”, what they need is that you ask for forgiveness for the crimes committed, that there be truth, justice and reparation, and that you leave office.”

Last week, on May 14, Cepeda, together with several national human rights organizations, submitted a complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) about the crimes against humanity and human rights violations committed by the Colombian government during the ongoing national strike in the country, and requested the ICC for its intervention.

The National Strike Committee, which brings together a diverse group of social organizations and trade unions that have been on the streets across Colombia since April 28 against the right-wing government of President Ivan Duque and his neoliberal policies, has also been calling for Molano’s resignation over the acts of violence that have occurred during the national strike. On Monday, the committee held a peaceful demonstration in the Plaza de Bolivar in front of the Congress to demand that the legislators vote in favor of Molano’s departure.

Before Molano, former defense ministers Guillermo Botero and Carlos Holmes Trujillo also faced the impeachment process for violations of human rights and controversial handling of public order. Botero resigned from the position on November 6, 2019, after being accused, through two motions of censure, of hiding information about the death of seven minors (between 12 and 17 years old), in an Army bombing in the Caquetá department. His successor, Trujillo, in October 2020, faced two motions of censure for the abuses of the public force in the protests, for having failed to comply with the ruling that ordered him to apologize for excessive use of police in the 2019 demonstrations and for the presence of US troops on Colombian soil without consulting the Congress. However, the Senate revoked the motion against him with 58 votes.

According to the experts, the efforts to remove the three defense ministers reveal that the portfolio has been dominated by a lack of leadership and little preparation to take on public order issues. Jairo Libreros, professor of Security at the Externado University of Colombia, in conversation with El Espectador, stated that the three public officials do not understand the role of civil power in a social state of law. “A civil minister in the Defense portfolio must guarantee the supremacy of the civil power over the public force. It is not a drawer phrase, but an accurate one that supports the liberal principle of the 1991 Political Constitution. The ministers adapted to military thinking, when what they had to do was moderate the use of force,” said Libreros.

Molano, who assumed the position on February 6 of this year after Trujillo’s death due to COVID-19, in March was widely criticized for calling the minors killed by the National Army in the Guaviare department “war machines” and justifying the army’s action as legitimate. Molano had no experience in matters of national defense and initially he did not have the support from the party for the position, however his loyalty to Uribista ideology led him to the office.