At the beginning of this month, President Gustavo Petro assured in a meeting with community leaders in Pasto that before Christmas the young people detained in the protests against the previous government would be released. “Hundreds of young people arrested for participating in protests will be declared peace managers before Christmas Eve,” said the president. Petro had promised justice to those who denounced having been victims of judicial setups and suffering punishment for having taken to the streets to demonstrate. The campaign promise, however, has proven more difficult to fulfill than Petro calculated. With a decree, thanks to the total peace law, the president created a commission that will decide who will be released, but the judges will have the last word.
Of the “hundreds” of young people that Petro assured that they would be at home before Christmas, only seven will be able to do so. On Friday, the president named five detainees in jails and two who are under housekeeping as spokespersons for peace. The Government assures that it is studying 200 more cases “thoroughly”, but the announcements about the release process, which have been given little by little and without further details, have generated confusion even among the detainees. Some, detained for more than a year in police stations, do not know if they can also be peace managers or if it is only for those who are in prison or under house arrest. Doubts about which crimes will be included in this relief does not give certainty to the young people who denounce having been prosecuted for disproportionate and unfair crimes, unrelated to the protest.
Since 2019, Julian Duarte hopes to get rid of a judicial process that has been charging since the beginning of the demonstrations against the Government of Ivan Duque. The Prosecutor’s Office points him out for manufacturing, trafficking and carrying weapons for the exclusive use of the armed forces. He has been able to bring his case to justice out of jail, under house arrest, but now he wonders if cases like his are part of the government’s plans. “The proposal has been very nebulous in terms of its content. For example, the Total Peace Law [con la que Petro da soporte legal a las liberaciones] it does not exclude any crime nor does it state that the convicted cannot participate”, says Duarte by phone. Since 2020, he has been part of the Objetivo Libertad campaign, which is active for the release of people unjustly detained or convicted for participating in the protests. “The national government, for not sharpening certain contradictions with different political sectors, has tried to respond to the comrades who are imprisoned with the releases, but at the same time it pleases the right by repeating the message that” not everyone will get out,” he points out. Duarte, 33 years old.
The ministers of Justice, Defense and the Interior, and Petro himself, have insisted that only those who are prosecuted for minor crimes and who have not been convicted will be released. But in prisons there are detainees for serious crimes, such as torture and attempted murder, who claim to be innocent and hope that the government includes them in its proposal. “In this country, people who were captured have been demonized and if the government adopts the same position, with the narrative that those convicted or accused of serious crimes cannot be peace managers, it is unaware that the fact that there are convictions It doesn’t mean they are guilty. The judicial processes were deeply flawed”, denounces Duarte.
The Minister of Justice, Nestor Osuna, has said that none of the first seven beneficiaries is accused of crimes against humanity, homicide, torture, sexual crimes or crimes against minors. “They are crimes affecting the public or private good, obstruction of public roads, transportation or disrespect for authority. What we took into account most were not so much the crimes, but the usefulness that [los jovenes] they can lend for the reconciliation of the neighborhood”, the minister clarified to the press.
Less than 48 hours after the deadline given by Petro himself to release them, it is not clear what are the conditions or criteria that must be met by anyone who wants to be a peace manager, a figure created in 1997 to designate people who have belonged to to illegal armed groups and who are released from jail to contribute with their presence in humanitarian agreements or in rapprochements that make it possible to make peace with the group to which they belong.
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Petro materialized his proposal with the decree in which he named the intersectoral commission that will study the cases, but few details have been known about how the peace agencies will work, in which conflict they will participate and if they will be able to work and study while they are free. The Government, for the moment, has recognized that the final decision will be made by the judges, who could apply a legal figure, the “unconstitutionality exception”, which gives them the right to decide not to apply a rule if they consider it contrary to the Constitution.
Rodrigo Uprimmy, Dejusticia researcher and professor at the National University, explained this week in an analysis of Time that although “the ministerial cabinet in charge of recommending the profiles of those released has been clear in its positions, the legal basis it has for its operation is “totally precarious”. The path is not completely clear for Petro to fulfill his promise, since it would suffice for the Council of State to suspend the decree after a lawsuit to freeze the initiative, and even eventually annul it, explains the Colombian newspaper.
Marcela Garzon is one of the mothers who hopes that Petro’s proposal will help her son. She still does not understand how he went out to march and ended up arrested and convicted by the Prosecutor’s Office. “He just went out to march, I don’t understand,” says the woman, about to cry. Her son, Duvan Felipe Tovar Garzon, 21, was captured on November 28 of last year at the Portal de las Americas, in Bogota. Since then he has been confined in the District jail and will soon be sentenced. “My son is not a criminal. I hope they review his case, even if he is condemned ”, Garzon pleads desperately, who denounces having been deceived by a lawyer who did not know how to advise them. “Everything has been very unfair, the government has to listen to our cases as well,” says the woman who has spent months looking for a state entity to attend to her.
Last Thursday, after two postponed appointments, President Petro met with the Attorney General, Francisco Barbosa, to talk about the peace managers. At the end of the meeting, they announced that the figure will also benefit police officers involved in cases of excessive use of force against protesters. Barbosa confirmed that “the last word on people who are deprived of their liberty is held by the judges.” The prosecutor opposes any possibility of releasing those who have been sentenced because he considers that it would be “exceeding the limits”. The Government has spoken in a similar tone. The Ministries of the Interior and Defense have insisted on sending a message of “no impunity” and have recalled that the releases do not imply that the processes are erased or that young people will enjoy a pardon or amnesty.
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