Bogotá, Colombia – Iván Velásquez first made a reputation for himself as a prosecutor in Medellin within the Nineties, when he allegedly refused to simply accept a briefcase of cash from Pablo Escobar to skip an investigation into the drug lord’s lifetime of luxurious in jail refused.

He rose to prominence by inspecting the connection between Colombian paramilitary forces, politicians and the enterprise group on the peak of the civil battle. His work ultimately led to the conviction of greater than 60 politicians, together with a cousin of former President lvaro Uribe. And he’s no stranger to non-public danger: Throughout a landmark investigation into the monetary ties between the enterprise group in Antioquia and paramilitary teams, 14 investigators in his workplace had been murdered.

On 7 August, Velásquez will grow to be protection minister within the administration of elected President Gustavo Petro. He’ll take workplace amid a number of safety challenges: rising violence in rural areas with little or no state presence, report coca manufacturing, and legal armed teams which have come to energy for the reason that nation’s historic 2016 peace cope with rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces. . Colombia (FARC).

Petro, who grew to become the primary leftist president in Colombia’s fashionable historical past, vowed to comply with the marketing campaign path for important reform of the police and army forces. His appointment of Velásquez, who additionally served as the highest UN official on the Worldwide Fee In opposition to Impunity in Guatemala, sends a robust message that he intends to comply with.

The appointment has drawn harsh criticism from critics of Petro, who view his previous as a insurgent fighter with deep suspicion. Velásquez “has taken a powerful place towards these of us within the army”, Ral Muse Penque, a retired profession soldier, instructed Al Jazeera. “We concern that he’ll provoke widespread harassment of army personnel who’ve been subjected to scrutiny associated to their every day duties as troopers within the service of their nation.”

A employee in Guatemala Metropolis with an indication in Spanish that claims ‘Thanks CICIG’ – Spanish acronym for Worldwide Fee In opposition to Impunity [File: Moises Castillo/AP]

Proper-wing Senator Paloma Valencia instructed native media that the appointment “displays the entire absence of democratic ensures … [and] places our entire lives at risk”.

However those that have labored intently with Velásquez in each Colombia and Guatemala paint a really totally different image: one in all soft-spoken and apolitical anti-corruption crusades, which, even in instances of immense private hazard, is at all times stays calm.

“He isn’t politically motivated,” prosecutor Gregorio Oviedo, who labored with Velasquez in Medellin, instructed Al Jazeera. “All through his profession, he has advocated for human rights. He is aware of easy methods to lead. He is aware of easy methods to conduct investigations, and most significantly, he is aware of what it’s prefer to dwell and work within the areas of the nation most politicians examine from Bogotá.

Stephen McFarland, the previous US ambassador to Guatemala, additionally welcomed the appointment: “Uribe has accused him of getting a political agenda. So far as I do know him, his solely agenda has been to construct a clear and unbiased justice system.

‘Highly effective message’

Velasquez’s work has made him many enemies. His workplace in Medellin was illegally sabotaged by Colombian intelligence and infiltrated by his safety staff. His private bodyguard on the time was a spy for the nation’s Division of Administrative Safety, which was disbanded in 2011 after instances of unlawful surveillance of journalists, human rights activists, politicians and judges grew to become public.

He reportedly survived a kidnapping try in Guatemala when authorities officers allegedly tried to deport him extrajudicially, and he endured numerous dying threats towards himself and his household in each nations.

Velásquez’s anti-corruption work in Guatemala led to profitable convictions towards former president Otto Pérez Molina, his former vp, seven ministers and dozens of politicians and businessmen. Velásquez was declared persona non grata by then-president Jimmy Morales in 2017 and deported from the nation.

“They arrested high-ranking businessmen – individuals from Guatemala’s richest households – for monetary crimes,” McFarland instructed Al Jazeera. “Those that thought they had been untouchables earlier than Velasquez got here.”

Colombia’s elected President Gustavo Petro lately spoke to college students on the College of Externado in Bogota, Colombia [Fernando Vergara/AP]

Oviedo stated that Petro, who typically denounced corruption throughout campaigning, is “sending a robust message that the times of impunity, when the federal government can flip a blind eye to the excesses of public forces, are over”. “Civil regulation shall be revered.”

Abuse by police and army forces has come underneath scrutiny in recent times, as official investigations have uncovered disturbing particulars about rights abuses, together with a “false optimistic” scandal involving greater than 6,400 abuses by safety forces. Extra civilians had been killed, who falsely claimed to be victims. Enemy fighters.

Velásquez has expressed help for Petro’s plan to deploy the police, which presently report back to army command as a part of the Ministry of Protection underneath civilian management. The reform was really helpful by the United Nations final yr after an investigation into police violence throughout nationwide protests the place dozens of individuals had been killed in motion by safety forces.

Petro has additionally promised to reintroduce features of the 2016 peace deal that had been delayed or destroyed by Ivan Duque’s outgoing administration. As a part of its efforts to implement a “full peace”, Petro has provided to barter new disarmament talks with rebels who weren’t a part of the FARC peace settlement. However the plan additionally contains negotiations with teams such because the Gulf Clan, which have grow to be more and more aggressive, locking down giant components of the nation by power and killing dozens of law enforcement officials.

Would they be keen to barter with an ex-guerrilla president and a prosecutor who has focused them for many years? Oviedo is not positive, however he notes that Velásquez has the willpower, capacity and expertise to take the primary steps towards actual justice in Colombia. However he’s in a single hell of a battle. ,

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