BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Angelino Lizcano, president of the Superior Council of the Court, said the apprehension of three men charged with the killing of Judge Gloria Constanza Gaona is a major victory in the country’s fight against terrorist groups.
“One month ago I expressed my concern with the intimidation judges face daily in our country,” he said at a media conference. “With the capture of those who assassinated Judge Gaona, we take a step against impunity and we hope not to have to hear about a case like this again.”
Gaona, a 36-year-old who had been on the bench for more than a dozen years, was shot five times by a single gunman at 8:10 a.m. local time on March 22, just three blocks away from the police station in Saravena, in the department of Arauca, about 115 kilometers (71 miles) from Bogotá.
But this wasn’t a random act of violence, according to the National Police.
“The homicide was ordered by “David” (an alias), part of the chain of command of the Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara Battalion of the Domingo Laín Front of the National Liberation Army (ELN),” according to National Police’s website.
Gaona, a mother of two, was killed because she was presiding over cases in which ELN members were defendants, according to the National Police.
The National Police, working with the Attorney General’s Office, apprehended three suspected ELN members on May 1 in connection with Gaona’s murder: Nelson Archila Ortega, who is accused of pulling the trigger; Robinson Adrián Ortega, who is accused of driving the motorcycle that enabled Ortega to flee the scene; and José Diomedes Gamboa Giraldo, who is accused of being an accessory in the killing.
President Juan Manuel Santos said during a speech held in Chiquinquirá, in the department of Boyacá, the arrest of the three men meant “all those insinuations pointing toward our public force are now completely discredited.”
“I want to congratulate the National Police and the Attorney General’s Office for their joint effort in solving this crime, as was promised, and in such a short time,” Santos said. “I think it is good news for the country.”
Brig. Gen. Carlos Ramiro Mena, the director of the country’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Interpol (DIJIN), said the ELN was behind Gaona’s murder.
“The murder of Judge [Gaona] is related to the cases she was trying against members of ELN,” Mena said.
Vicente Torrijos, political analyst at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, said the ELN’s most recent attacks indicate they may have aligned with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The FARC, the country’s largest terrorist group, has been fighting the state since the 1960s.
“Many in the (news) media have mentioned the increase in ELN operations since President Santos has been in office,” he said. “For example: the kidnapping of 20 students in Antioquia in October of last year, or the 5 members of the military killed by militias in the same department. However, we should not forget the attack against the DAS [Administrative Department of Security] facilities in September of last year in Pasto, which left 12 injured and caused millions in material damages.”
The ELN is considered a terrorist group in 31 countries. The ELN, created in 1964, tries to recruit members by infiltrating Colombian universities and by preying upon impressionable minors.
“What do these attacks mean?” Torrijos said. “The ELN is allied with the FARC in regions such as Antioquia, Nariño, Córdoba or Arauca and aims its operations against the civilian population. All this is to destabilize the relative peace that has been achieved under the administrations of [former President Álvaro] Uribe and Santos. The strategy to be followed is to attack the ELN with the same drive as we attack the FARC.”