President Iván Duque has appointed Diego Molano as Colombia’s new Defense Minister on Tuesday, who replaces the late Carlos Holmes Trujillo in a delicate moment that includes the incessant murder of social leaders, environmentalists and former combatants of the extinct FARC guerrilla group that signed the peace agreement, the upsurge of violence in some regions and episodes of abuse by the security forces that have aroused public outrage. Molano is a member of the Democratic Center, the government party founded by former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, and has been a spokesperson for the Duque Executive as director of the Administrative Department of the Presidency of the Republic (Dapre).
Carlos Holmes Trujillo died a week ago from covid-19 at the Bogotá Military Hospital, where he had been in an intensive care unit since mid-January. Due to his state of health, President Duque had appointed as the Minister of Defense in charge the Commander General of the Military Forces, General Luis Fernando Navarro.
Faced with the misfortune, the president, as has been his style, leaned towards a kind of castling in high government positions. Molano, of whom Duque highlighted his “managerial capabilities”, will be his third Defense Minister since he assumed power in August 2018 – the portfolio that has undergone the most changes together with the Interior and Justice. Holmes Trujillo, until then chancellor, assumed as defense minister after the resignation at the end of 2019 of Guillermo Botero, who faced an imminent motion of censure in Congress for the death of eight minors in a military bombing. Both were staunch opponents of the peace agreement with the extinct FARC guerrilla and represented in the Cabinet the sectors closest to former President Uribe, Duque’s political mentor.
Security is one of the great flags of the Democratic Center. The appointment of Molano, 50, keeps Defense in the hands of Uribismo, the political current created around the former president, as has happened with the other more decisive portfolios: Interior, Foreign and Treasury. “It is a challenge that fills him with passion and enthusiasm, being the son of a military man, born in the Military Hospital, trained in the Patria Military College and who has had a close relationship with the forces all his life,” said President Duque when announcing the appointment first thing in the morning from the Casa de Nariño.
The new minister studied business administration at the Universidad del Rosario, with a master’s degree from Columbia. He has been director of the Presidential Agency for Social Action and International Cooperation and councilor of Bogotá, among other positions. In October 2019 he resigned from the Council of the Colombian capital to take over as head of Dapre – where he will be relieved by the hitherto economic advisor Víctor Muñoz.
“All the ills of the country have their own names: drug trafficking, that great virus that eats away at Colombia, in fields and cities. Therefore, in terms of security, the big bet will be to continue dismantling the criminal structures that live off this illegal business, “Molano told the newspaper. Time in a recent interview, in line with the Executive’s speech, which among others has proposed to return to the controversial aerial spraying of illicit crops with glyphosate. It will have to navigate in the middle of the rearrangement of relations between Colombia and the United States after the arrival at the White House of Joe Biden. The new US Administration has shown that the implementation of the peace accord – which Biden supported when he was Obama’s vice president – is one of its concerns.
Molano highlighted in his presentation that he intends to continue and accelerate the fight against narcotics, as well as to fight without respite the illegal armed groups that include the Clan del Golfo, the ELN and the FARC dissidents that have left the peace process. “Dismantling these organizations is the best mechanism and way to prevent the murder of social leaders,” he said. It also included the fight against deforestation among its priorities.
The Colombian Army has been hit in recent times by a long chain of scandals that include illegal interceptions of journalists and opponents as well as the return of the specter of extrajudicial executions. To these questions are added the police excesses in different waves of mobilizations against the Government. The ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice that held that the State represses in a “systematic, violent, arbitrary and disproportionate” manner the demonstrations met with a closed defense of those in uniform by the Duque Executive.
As head of the security forces, the new minister will also have to face two major events this year related to the actions of the uniformed soldiers in the Colombian armed conflict when the historical account is still a matter of dispute. On the one hand, one of the great processes that have advanced the most in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) is that of the so-called false positives, the euphemism with which thousands of extrajudicial executions are known or, as defined by the case 03, “Deaths unlawfully presented as combat casualties by State agents.” On the other hand, the Truth Commission will present its final report in the second half of 2021 on more than half a century of a war that has involved guerrillas, paramilitaries and State forces.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.