President Duque announces plans to strengthen National Protection Unit in the run-up to elections

By September 19, 2019

Earlier this week, Colombian President Iván Duque announced measures that the government would take to increase protection for political candidates ahead of the October 27 local and regional elections. 

The announcement followed outrage over the murders of seven candidates, the latest victims of political violence which spiked after the 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas.

Iván Duque and his party Centro Democrático (CD) have been under criticism for the scarce resources they have pledged to the National Protection Unit (UNP), the agency which provides bodyguards and protection to public figures.

According to Colombia Reports, Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez and Defence Minister Guillermo Botero (DC) did not intervene whilst UNP director Pablo Elias Gonzalez was being interrogated by congressmen for the unit’s security policy which is affecting the various political parties. Gonzalez, however, cited a lack of funding from the government in his defense, claiming the unit had exhausted its supplies of armored vehicles, and that his own bodyguards were being attacked. 

The UNP provides some level of protection for just 236 of the 117,000 candidates for provincial governorships, mayorships and seats on provincial legislatures and local councils.

In response to accusations that the government was not sufficiently addressing the threat posed to these candidates, Iván Duque emphasized the country’s commitment to “condemning violence, protecting the transparency of the electoral system, and strengthening democracy.”

The President stated that political parties have now been told to “inform security services of candidates’ movements […] so that the authorities may take the necessary preventative measures.”

“We have spoken with all political parties to reinforce protection measures so that the National Protection Unit can respond faster to calls,” declared Iván Duque, explaining how a rigorous analysis of the situation in the country had been carried out during the Commission reunion.

In the next 72 hours “all requests for protection received up until now must be up-to-date”.

He added that the UNP were now collaborating with the security services in their efforts to provide improved protection for election candidates.

As well as indicating the measures that would be taken to counter the threat to candidates’ safety, President Duque emphasized the reduction in the number of attacks compared with the elections that took place four years ago, when twenty-two attacks occurred in the same electoral period. He went on to cite the success of the security services and the Public Prosecutor in determining some of those responsible for crimes against candidates.

It remains to be seen whether the measures taken by the government will be effective in combating political violence, and in silencing some of Iván Duque’s critics.