Margarita Cabello Blanco (Barranquilla, 63 years old), until less than two weeks ago the Minister of Justice of Iván Duque, was chosen this Thursday by the Senate of Colombia as the new attorney general of the nation. In an express process that aroused suspicion and resistance, his name received the endorsement of 83 of the 100 senators in the first face-to-face session of Congress, which was in session virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. Cabello will be the first woman to head the entity in charge of investigating disciplinary offenses against public servants and fighting corruption.
“The current crisis must unite us in the midst of differences. I want a public ministry that reconciles, helps social cohesion and avoids polarization, ”said Cabello in her first speech after being elected. The recently resigned minister was a clear favorite in a Senate chaired by Arturo Char, a member of the family that dominates the politics of his hometown, Barranquilla, the largest city in the Colombian Caribbean. It was nominated by President Duque in a shortlist that he shared with former Magistrate Wilson Ruiz, the Supreme Court candidate, and former Deputy Attorney General Juan Carlos Cortés, nominated by the Council of State.
Cabello will take over from next year Fernando Carrillo, who has raised the image of an entity that remained surrounded by controversy during the two periods in which Alejandro Ordóñez imposed a conservative and radical line. His election, however, has provoked an intense discussion about the balance of powers, the system of checks and balances, and the independence of the supervisory bodies. “We are deeply concerned that a person who is not in a position to effectively guarantee impartiality and autonomy vis-à-vis the Government, who is not free of conflicts of interest in the main corruption scandals that affect the country ”, warned moments before the vote a public letter from 12 social organizations, including the Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) and the Colombian Commission of Jurists.
A lawyer for the Corporación Universitaria de la Costa, the newly elected attorney was also a judge and magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice, a position she resigned to enter Duque’s Cabinet. During his career, he has been close to both sectors related to former President Álvaro Uribe, the president’s political mentor who is currently in house arrest, as well as to the political elites of the north coast and the former attorney Ordóñez – current Colombian ambassador to the OAS -.
In May 2019, following the resignation of Gloria María Borrero amid the institutional crisis unleashed by the decision to release Jesús Santrich – a former FARC commander who ended up as a fugitive from the authorities – Duque immediately announced as the new Minister of Justice to Margarita Cabello. “He will have the immense responsibility of advancing in all the reforms that are required for the modernization of the judicial apparatus,” he presented.
However, his management has been marked in recent months by two controversies. A month after a bloody riot with at least a score of deaths that exposed the dramatic overcrowding in Colombia’s prisons, he designed a decree to send thousands of prisoners to house arrest during the pandemic. Experts agree that the measure was late and insufficient.
More recently, his portfolio became involved in the legal mess whereby Salvatore Mancuso, a former paramilitary commander jailed in the United States for drug trafficking, will likely be deported to Italy in September, rather than return to Colombia, due to failed requests for extraditions from Bogotá have been riddled with errors. “For the honor of Colombia and before the Mancuso scandal becomes more entangled, withdraw the candidacy of Margarita Cabello,” he had asked Duque in their social networks Conservative former president Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002), part of the coalition that brought him to power.
Various columnists and opinion leaders have criticized that Duque has installed officials very close to the Government in different control bodies this year. In January, Congress elected as attorney general a close friend of the president from the times when they were colleagues at Sergio Arboleda University, the lawyer Francisco Barbosa, who had just served as presidential advisor for human rights and international relations and lacked credentials as a criminal lawyer. And this month, conservative politician Carlos Camargo, another lawyer for his Alma mater, was chosen as the ombudsman amid claims from the opposition for his lack of experience in human rights, the field of action of the Ombudsman.
“It is clear that President Iván Duque did not invent the imbalance of powers (…) But we have already seen, for example, the problems that the Prosecutor’s Office has had to generate trust given the personal friendship that exists between the prosecutor and the president” , he warned in his editorial the newspaper The viewer. “While it is true that no one nominates or names their enemies, it is also true that inbreeding is not a good way to govern in a democracy. This is still a bad message for the country when what is required is to regain confidence ”, valued Elisabeth Ungar, former director of Transparency for Colombia, the local chapter of Transparency International.