The Attorney General of the Nation, Francisco Barbosa, and the country’s president, Gustavo Petro, have had a history of ongoing disagreements since the latter began his term in August 2022.
Barbosa was appointed as the head of the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office during the previous president’s tenure, Iván Duque, in February 2020. His four-year term, therefore, ends in February 2024, which is just five months away.
However, daily clashes between the head of the Prosecutor’s Office and the current President of Colombia promise to continue making headlines because Barbosa has become the scourge and primary public opponent of the head of state.
A History of Discord
Perhaps the peak of tension between the two representatives of the public powers in Colombia was reached in May when the President of the Republic reminded the chief prosecutor that he was a state official, and as the head of state, he was his superior.
In statements made from Spain, where he was on an official trip, Petro stated, “The prosecutor forgets one thing that the Constitution orders him: I am the head of state, therefore, his boss.” The tension between these two high-ranking officials had been brewing for some time, following Barbosa’s repeated criticisms of the president’s policies, including his proposal for “Total Peace” with various illegal armed groups operating in the country.
The prosecutor’s response was to criticize the president, labeling him a “dictator.” At that time, Barbosa announced that his family was leaving the country, as he claimed to feel his life was threatened. Later on, the prosecutor himself reported a supposed plan by the ELN to assassinate him, which is still under investigation.
The governing bodies of the Colombian justice system also wasted no time in rebuffing the president, emphasizing the necessary autonomy that the judiciary holds in relation to the executive branch. In Colombia, unlike the United States, the prosecutor is not subordinate to the head of state. On the contrary, the prosecutor is a completely independent official and is not subject to the directives of the executive branch.
The Nicolas Petro Case, the Most Recent Clash
The detention of the president’s son, Nicolas Petro, has been the most recent episode in the history of discord between the prosecutor’s office and the presidency. The president’s son accused the Attorney General of pressuring him to implicate his father in the corruption case against him.
Barbosa, just today, responded by stating that there must be evidence to make such a grave accusation. Nicolás Petro claimed that during his detention and initial statements, he had been “morally and physically broken.”
“A judge granted me freedom, and a judge will determine my innocence based on evidence, not on leaks that violate my human rights. To obtain that statement, the Prosecutor’s Office morally and physically broke me, in a procedure that punishes the Human Rights System,” Nicolás Petro wrote on his social media accounts in response to the leak of the video of his final statements to the prosecutor’s office.
The case pursued by the Prosecutor’s Office against Nicolas Petro concluded recently with Barbosa’s accusation against the President of Colombia, asking the competent authorities for judging a high-ranking official to conduct the necessary investigations to determine Gustavo Petro’s role in the alleged illegal financing of his campaign.
Controversy over the Selection Process of His Successor
Similarly, the process for selecting Barbosa’s successor has also been fraught with controversy. In Colombia, it is the president of the country who proposes a list of names for the position. From among these names, the Supreme Court, the highest judicial authority, selects the Attorney General.
In this regard, there has been criticism of the list of names that Petro submitted a few months ago to the Supreme Court. The President has even stated that “they are afraid of an independent Prosecutor’s Office.” Several months ago, Gustavo Petro, exercising his constitutional right, submitted the names of three individuals: Ángela María Buitrago Ruiz, Amelia Pérez Parra, and Amparo Cerón Ojeda.
Recently, the name of Amparo Cerón was replaced in the proposal with that of Luz Adriana Camargo, a penalist known for pursuing cases related to “parapolitics,” the alliance between politicians and paramilitaries. Cerón’s name was eventually removed from the list following controversy related to the Odebrecht scandal.
Barbosa, Presidential Candidate in 2026?
There has been much speculation about Francisco Barbosa’s future political life after he leaves the position of Attorney General in a few months. Iván Cepeda, a senator from the Pacto Histórico party, the party of President Petro, has directly asked the current prosecutor if he has aspirations to run for the presidency in 2026 when the current head of state’s term ends.
Likewise, Cepeda invited Barbosa to publicly state his intentions regarding whether he plans to be a candidate or not. With this move, Cepeda seeks to highlight the prosecutor’s contradiction with his February 2020 speech when he was sworn in as the Attorney General. During that ceremony, in front of President Duque, Barbosa announced that “fulfilling my role as Attorney General implies doing it full-time, without double agendas, and with patriotic commitment.”
At that time, the prosecutor proposed a measure where heads of public offices would be temporarily disqualified from running for president after leaving their positions. “I invite the Comptroller General of the Republic, Carlos Felipe Córdoba, and the Attorney General of the Nation, Fernando Carrillo, to join the proposal, as is being done today by the Attorney General of the Nation, to promote the temporary disqualification that needs to be established in our positions to prevent the rush to start premature presidential campaigns within the framework of our functions,” Barbosa said back then.