The country of Colombia has made vast strides in a relatively short amount of time going from an authoritarian type of rule to one of a civilian government. They nearly became a failed state due to the narcotraffickers that nearly toppled the country. But erasing decades of military autonomy is still going to take some time. 

This is why the actions of General Luis Fernando Navarro, the chief of Colombia’s armed forces are so important and bear watching, especially for their neighbors. Navarro vowed to get to the bottom of a very deep and ongoing scandal over spying on journalists, politicians, and judges. Navarro characterized the alleged parties in this as rogue elements within the country’s army.

Latin American militaries have always been wracked by all too frequent coups and praetorianism among the officers. And the Colombian government, which has come so far from the bad days of the 1990s, they can’t afford any cracks in the civilian control over security and intelligence operations, especially any politicization of the intelligence service. 

And the Colombians have been down this road before. The Administrative Department of Security (DAS) came into being to tackle the long guerrilla war with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army). But under the Uribe presidency, DAS was used against political opponents, human rights activists, as well as judges who were hearing cases against the government. That forced reforms in 2013 that ensured non-partisan control over the DAS but their overall autonomy remained. 

General Navarro.

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This is why the hacking and spying that was brought to light by the news magazine “Semana” is a potential powderkeg for the military. Navarro and the military have already acted quickly; dismissing 11 officers who were involved in the illegal monitoring operation. A general (who is still unnamed) was forced to retire. 

The hacking claims have been ongoing for several years as negotiators that were handling the peace talks with the FARC were being monitored and hacked. 

Navarro conducted a telephone interview on Sunday and is working to eradicate the problem, but it isn’t going to be easy. He said the military made changes to the command structure and tighter security protocols have been put in place since these spying charges were brought forth. “Colombia’s intelligence system is under total and absolute control,” he said. 

Navarro was quick to point out that illegal spying was not an institutional policy but the individual actions of a few rogue officers who could face jail time as well as having lost their jobs over this operation. 

He also wasn’t content with the dismissal of the 11 officers and is planning on rooting all of the spying out. “The investigations have to move forward and find those responsible,” he said.

“Our cooperation has to continue to be strong, we need it to combat transnational organized crime and we guarantee to our strategic allies that we are investigating, making decisions and any person who has gone outside the law will have to answer for it,” he added.

This large-scale spying and hacking operation is an important one for Navarro and the military as well as the Colombian government. They need to find all of those responsible and ensure that the people trust the different factions of the Colombian government. They’ve come too far in the past couple of decades to lose all of the gains they made. Hopefully, Navarro will be able to see it through.