OBG talks to Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno, Minister of Defence

 Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno, Minister of Defence

Interview: Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno

How confident are you of protecting new oil exploration in the eastern lowlands?

JUAN CARLOS PINZÓN BUENO: The government is making significant efforts to protect national infrastructure, not only in hydrocarbons but also in other areas such as roads and hydroelectric plants. We have increased the budget that applies to this task, which allowed us to use six new battalions to defend infrastructure. We have introduced new systems and technologies, including unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as better mechanisms for coordination of command and control.

Are defence understandings with neighbouring states sufficiently precise to be effective?

PINZÓN: We have strengthened cooperation with all countries in the region regarding transnational cooperation. We have with all of them some kind of agreement that has led to the successful accomplishment of missions, including the capture of drug traffickers and interception of illegal substances and weapons. In particular, we have increased our collaboration with Ecuador and Peru in the fight against illegal mining. Both administrations are aware that if we put an end to criminal exploitation of resources, we will seriously harm terrorist groups, which depend on this income. Besides, we are also leveraging the fact that Colombia is successfully defeating its internal security threats to increase cooperation with other nations by providing security assistance and training. Colombia is now in a post-conflict scenario, and its expertise can be crucial to the solution of global and regional security challenges.

How much responsibility for curtailing illegal mining falls to the Defence Ministry?

PINZÓN: We are wholly responsible for suppressing the criminal exploitation of resources, as we know these are critical to financing terrorist groups, besides damaging the environment and adversely affecting tax collection. A special mission within carabineer police has been created to confront this threat, in coordination with the prosecutor-general. The government has issued a number of decrees on effective control of mining operations and the movement of machinery for criminal purposes. Once we find tools that are being used for these purposes, the law authorises us to destroy them.

The ministry’s budget represents about 15% of state spending. How much goes to internal security?

PINZÓN: Almost all of our budget is dedicated to citizen protection. We are talking about $13bn used to strengthen the security forces. This includes the armed forces and the police. The considerable investment is used to protect citizens from three types of threats: terrorism, organised crime and delinquency. Terrorism represents 40% of what it was a decade ago, and the principal terrorist groups such as FARC and ELN have been forced to relocate in marginal areas of the country where there are relatively few people. The weakening of FARC thanks to a successful military and police campaign is certainly what led them to accept peace talks, and if we put an end to the conflict through an agreement, it will be a victory of the Colombian armed forces. Even so, we keep working to weaken terrorist forces, for which purpose we are training 5000 new soldiers who will join the Colombian Army before 2013 ends. Organised crime has been weakened and is now concentrated in 28% of the country, which shows that Colombia is still a place of contrasts and that much work remains to be done achieve equity among regions.

What relief is being offered to victims of conflict?

PINZÓN: A number of specific programmes include help to terrorists who surrender to authorities and assistance in rebuilding their lives. We also work hard to prevent the recruitment of children through awareness campaigns. In relation to Internally Displaced Persons (IPDs), indigenous populations, the government has been increasing the resources of the National Protection Unit to protect communities. In addition we help with land restitution and victims’ compensation.

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Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno

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The Report

This article is from the Country Profile chapter of The Report: Colombia 2013. Explore other chapters from this report.