The Colombian justice system has upheld the legality of President Petro’s ‘Total Peace’ project. This means that one of the government’s most significant initiatives, alongside social reforms being promoted in Congress, has been safeguarded by aligning with the Constitution, according to the country’s highest judicial body.
The Total Peace project was defined through a law passed by Colombia’s Congress in November of last year. However, it was challenged by the conservative opposition party, the Democratic Center, which aimed to sink the government’s peace project.
Failed Attempt to Thwart Petro’s Total Peace
Two legislators from Uribe’s Democratic Center party, José Jaime Uscátegui and María Fernanda Cabal, had requested that the court revoke the Total Peace law, which allows the government to negotiate with guerrilla groups and various illegal armed organizations.
This recent move has nullified the political party’s options to dismantle the current government’s peace efforts through judicial means. The Democratic Center party had previously opposed former President Juan Manuel Santos’ peace negotiations with the now-defunct FARC 10 years ago.
According to the court’s decision, the controversial phrase “carry out all acts aimed at engaging in approaches and conversations with organized armed crime structures of high impact showing willingness to transition towards the Rule of Law” aligns with Colombian constitutional principles.
Court Limits Appointments of ‘Peace Envoys’
However, the court decided to limit the executive’s ability to pardon convicted individuals to carry out mediation tasks with different illegal armed groups. According to the magistrates, the government can only appoint these ‘peace envoys’ and request their release after consulting with the legislative and judicial branches.
It is worth noting that earlier this year, the Petro government appointed the demobilized former paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso as a ‘peace envoy’ to mediate with dissidents from the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the extreme right-wing paramilitary organization that made peace with the state in 2006.
Since then, Mancuso has accused the husband of Senator María Fernanda Cabal, the head of the cattle ranchers’ federation, José Félix Lafaurie, of seeking paramilitary support in 2005 to ensure the election of Attorney General Mario Iguarán.
However, the court has not removed Mancuso, who has already served a long prison sentence in the US for drug trafficking.
Decision on First Line Members
Similarly, the judicial decision limits the executive’s capacity to release detained members of the so-called ‘First Line’, individuals with pending judicial charges whom President Petro had promised to set free. The First Line was a group of radicals who led the most forceful, and in many cases, violent protests against former President Iván Duque’s economic policies in 2021.
The social upheaval lasted from April 28 to July 20 and consisted of massive demonstrations, strikes, roadblocks, barricades, and cyber activism. While the protesters demanded President Duque’s resignation, their primary objective was to withdraw the controversial finance minister Carrasquilla’s tax reform proposal. The demonstrators achieved their goal, leading to the minister’s resignation.
Although most demonstrations were peaceful, a group of radicals turned some gatherings and areas of major cities into constant battlefields, engaging in intense clashes with law enforcement. Those detained for these acts, members of the First Line, will not be released unilaterally by the executive due to the judicial decision.
Since 2022, the country’s presidency requested the release of 20 youths from this group out of around 300 who faced legal proceedings, appointing them as peace envoys and spokespeople by decree. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, 12 have been released to date, and another five were freed due to the expiration of legal terms
No Further Releases
The court’s ruling is clear in stating that if the executive intends to proceed with the releases, it “disregards legal and judicial reserves in criminal matters, violating the rights of victims. The President and the executive branch cannot order the release of individuals who have been deprived of liberty by judicial order, especially if it does not fit a specific objective with a clear constitutional foundation, defining a specific scope subordinate to such purpose. Moreover, this potential release renders the objectives justifying the precautionary measure or prison sentence by judicial authorities ineffective, limiting the effectiveness of judicial recourse for victims and affecting their right to justice.”
However, the judicial ruling is not retroactive, allowing those already released to remain at liberty. President Gustavo Petro expressed his discontent with the situation, stating in a social media post that “the young people of the first line and of the second, third, and beyond are not perpetrators; they are victims of a state that not only… incarcerated them in thousands but also left them without education and opportunities. Social protests should never be criminalized. That is not possible in a Social State of Law.”