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Diego Molano: the time of the minister before the Colombian Congress for the military operation in Putumayo | International

Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano, surrounded by military commanders during a press conference in Bogotá.
Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano, surrounded by military commanders during a press conference in Bogotá.Carlos Ortega (EFE)

Almost a month after an Army operation in the village of Alto Remanso, Putumayo, which left eleven dead, including four civilians, doubts continue to hover over the military incursion. And this Tuesday the Minister of Defense, Diego Molano, will have to appear before Congress to clarify them. The Senate has summoned him to debate political control and the House of Representatives, to a motion of censure.

Molano will be asked why the operation was carried out, as the United Nations has said, in the middle of a popular festival with the presence of children and women; what evidence does it have to show that some of the dead were not civilians, as the community insists in repeated testimonies; why he presented four people as captured even though the Prosecutor’s Office assured that he did not receive any of them; and why there was manipulation and movement of some corpses, as evidenced by EL PAÍS, among other questions.

One day before the appointment, Molano was in Putumayo, the region where the military incursion took place, and there he maintained that all the dead were part of the FARC guerrilla dissidents, although the residents and human rights organizations identify some of the dead as recognized civilians in the community. The deceased included a pregnant woman and a 16-year-old minor.

“We have intelligence information that these 11 deaths were either related to the structure or participated in the structure or participated in the hostilities. For this reason, if there is any doubt regarding this, President Iván Duque has ordered that the investigations be carried out as quickly as possible. It will be the Prosecutor’s Office that determines whether that relationship exists or not,” said the minister from Puerto Leguízamo, on the border with Ecuador.

Since the operation that sought to capture alias Bruno, a member of the Border Commands, the Duque government has closed ranks around the military version. This, however, has had variations. A source familiar with the case explained that the Army would argue that if there were civilians, they were killed by bullets from the armed group.

This Tuesday, opposition congressmen will seek to demonstrate these contradictions. “We are going to demonstrate the 10 lies of Minister Molano and the Army,” the senator from the Game Green Alliance, Antonio Sanguino. The congressman will state that there are inconsistencies in the intelligence information from the government to carry out the operation, in the information that they have delivered on the military deployment. “We are going to urge Molano to give us an explanation. If he does not do so, the debate should conclude that a minister who lies should not be a minister and the military leadership should be called to qualify services”, he added.

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In that same space, the senator of the leftist party, Polo Democrático, Iván Cepeda will present other cases similar to that of Putumayo. “In my case, I will attach new facts that show that false positives (extrajudicial executions at the hands of soldiers) have returned, that it is a government policy,” he explained by phone.

In the House of Representatives, where she is also facing a motion of censure, Representative Katherin Miranda says that the victims of Putumayo will be able to be heard and that they will show “that this operation violated all human rights protocols.”

It is not the first time that Minister Molano has been in the middle of a scandal over the legitimacy of an operation. In March 2021, the complaint that the Army had bombed a minor guerrilla camp in Guaviare forced him to answer before Congress. He, who had previously been director of the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF), the institution that protects minors, justified the operation. “The discussion here is not about the legitimacy of our security forces to carry out these operations, but how the FARC dissidents continue to recruit these young people and turn them into war machines,” he said at the time.

The new attempt at a motion of censure takes place in a heated environment and in the midst of the presidential elections. Last Friday, the head of the Army, General Eduardo Zapateiro, broke into the political campaign with a series of Twitter messages against the left-wing candidate Gustavo Petro. He thus violated an article of the Political Constitution that indicates that the military are not deliberate. He will now be investigated by the Attorney General’s Office to establish if it is about participation in politics. Zapateiro also recently justified the death of a woman and a minor in the Putumayo case. “It will not be the first time that a female and minor combatant has been killed,” he said.

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