BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia’s incoming leftist President Gustavo Petro on Friday named Ivan Velasquez, a former assistant judge in the country’s Supreme Court of Justice and previously a UN anti-corruption investigator in Guatemala, as his defense minister.
Petro, a 62-year old economist who will become Colombia’s first leftist president on Aug. 7, pledged to fully implement a peace deal with the demobilized FARC guerrillas during his campaign and has proposed talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group and criminal groups linked to drug-trafficking.
The ELN in June said it was open to advancing peace talks with Petro’s government, while six criminal groups linked to drug trafficking have proposed a ceasefire with the next government as a preamble to negotiations.
“Our defense minister will be former assistant judge of the Supreme Court (…) and former UN commissioner responsible for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala: Ivan Velasquez Gomez,” Petro said in a message on Twitter.
Petro, a critic of Colombia’s military establishment and ex-member of the M-19 guerrillas, has pledged that security personnel accused of human rights violations will stand trial in regular courts rather than the military ones that have traditionally doled out lighter sentences.
He has also promised a total restructuring of the police, including dismantling its much-criticized ESMAD riot squad.
Colombia’s military and security forces have fought guerrilla movements for decades and have a longstanding role in the U.S.-led war on drugs.
The Andean country’s internal armed conflict of almost 60 years left around 450,000 dead between 1985 and 2018 alone, and has also displaced millions of people, according to a report from the country’s truth commission.
Velasquez thanked Petro for his appointment in a message on Twitter.
“I will do everything in my power to reciprocate (the President-elect’s) trust and help him build the country of which we have dreamed so much,” he said.
(Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)