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The attack in Bogota risks thwarting the peace process in Colombia

The death toll of yesterday evening’s car bomb attack against General Santander police academy is tragically increasing by the hour. It was the deadliest attack in the past twelve years, which left 21 dead and 68 injured, according to the latest statement by the police issued in the late night hours, Italian time. The morning had started peacefully and joyfully in the large compound immersed in the greenery in the southern part of the residential area of the Colombian capital, bordering onto “no man’s land” of Ciudad Bolivar

Eighty kilos of explosives now risk blowing to pieces also the peace process in Colombia. The death toll of yesterday evening’s car bomb attack against General Santander police academy is tragically increasing by the hour. It was the deadliest attack in at least the past twelve years, which left 21 dead and 68 injured according to the latest statement by the police issued in the late night hours, Italian time. The morning had started peacefully and joyfully in the large compound immersed in the greenery in the southern part of the residential area of the Colombian capital, bordering onto “no man’s land” of Ciudad Bolivar.

 

As witnesses testified in tweets, in the early morning the young students of the Cadet academy were attending a promotion ceremony that awarded the “second star” to some of the cadets, in recognition of their school achievements.

 

A few instant later that same place became the site of an apocalypse, reviving the ghosts of a recent past. The deadliest attack in the past ten years in the capital city was caused by a Nissan Patrol. Colombian investigators have identified the car’s driver as 56-year-old Jose Aldemar Rojas, carrying 80 kilograms of the high explosive pentolite. The explosive-sniffing dogs that protect the facility detected something and the car rammed through the checkpoint, exploding in front of the female police barracks.
The driver of the Patrol was among the victims.

Suicide bombers are not common in “the history of Colombian attacks”, but it’s a possibility that is being investigated, along with the possibility that Rojas didn’t manage to get out of the car.

The first reactions were disorientation and disbelief: “Who on earth is responsible for all of this?”. Many theories on the ground, but none of them confirmed until now. Contacted in Colombia where he lives, Dimitri Endrizzi,  born in Trentino, Italy, Professor of Political Science at the Universidad Católica de Colombia, remarked: “This attack took place at a very delicate moment in the political and social life of the Country. Public opinion was shattered by various events, such as the odd ‘suicide with cyanide’ of the key-witness in the trial for bribery involving the continental Odebrecht scandal, along with the disruptive testimony in the trial of drug lord El Chapo ongoing in New York, of Columbian drug trafficker Alex Cifuentes, who mentioned the involvement of the former Vice-President of the Republic and former Head of Police Óscar Naranjo, largely viewed as one of the most honest figures in Colombia’s political life. On top of this the killing of social leaders continues, while the application of the peace process defined in 2016 is extremely limited.” In this context, within a divided, polarized society, the terror attack risks further destabilizing the situation, causing the country to relapse into the spiral of violence and war.

Who has an interest in causing all of this? Nobody has claimed responsibility up to now. The profile of the attacker is also unusual: he was not a member of the FARC, although he reportedly  tried to be included in their reintegration programmes trying to pass himself off as one of them. Investigators are looking into his connections with the rebels from the National Liberation Army (ELN). “Probably those who organized the attack were no amateurs, given the amount of explosive used – Endrizzi went on -. It is unlikely that they were FARC dissidents, as they lack such organizational capacities today.” For the moment the most beaten track leads to ELN (that launched deadly multiple bomb attacks against police stations in Barranquilla a year ago). Other possible assailants include the country’s Usuga drug cartel, also called the ‘Gulf Clan’, or subversive conspiracies whose purpose is to sabotage the challenging path of peace.

Several institutional players are deeply worried, notably the Colombian Church. One of the first statements released yesterday is the one given to SIR by Mons. Elkin Fernando Álvarez Botero, Secretary General of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference (CEC) and auxiliary bishop of Medellin: “We condemn the use of terror and violence in all circumstances and for any reason. Of course, this fact destabilizes us and prompts our strong condemnation of any act of violence, wherever it comes from. Hopefully the perpetrators will be identified and brought to justice as soon as possible.”

The Secretary General added: “We enjoin everyone to bear in mind that there will be no going back on the peace process.”His statement was rapidly followed by a short video-message by Msgr. Óscar Urbina Ortega, CEC President, archbishop of Villavicencio, and by an official declaration of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference signed by Msgr. Urbina, that states: “We must oppose this insane attack with courage and determination, every murder and every act of violence will only bring more death and destruction. It is time to strengthen the will, the commitment and the unity of all, government and civil society alike, to uproot violence and move forth with renewed firmness of purpose along the path of reconciliation and peace.”


The Archbishop of Bogota, Primate of Colombia, Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez, released a short statement: “Death, violence and terror can never be seeds of justice and peace. We condemn this and any attack that wounds the dignity of persons and of society. We express our solidarity to the nation, the police, the victims and their families, and implore forgiveness and peace.”
The President of the Comision de Verdad, Jesuit Father Francisco De Roux, expressed his condemnation of the attack on Twitter with an invitation “to continue along the path of truth and justice, shunning the reiteration of such barbarity.”

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