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If you ever met the Colombian judge Iván Velásquez, you would not think he is the giant-slayer that he is.

The person who is the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comision Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) is soft-spoken and deep thinker. He takes long pauses before he speaks and you are often left to divine what is going on inside his head, but he does not say much even when he does talk.

Yet, the judge has taken on five presidents in his time as a judge, a prosecutor and now as the commissioner of the controversial CICIG, which has been part of the prosecution of four current and ex-presidents of Guatemala.

What was it that made Velásquez such a president-slayer? We should start with the fact that he is from Medellin, Colombia, the epicenter of so many battles in Colombia’s half-century of wars. First, it was the guerrilla war. Then it was the war against Pablo Escobar. And finally, it was the war involving the right-wing paramilitaries.

In the early 1990s, Velásquez was the ombudsman of the department of Antioquia, where he had to investigate government actors who had employed a dirty war against Pablo Escobar. Later in the same decade, he headed up a team of prosecutors who were investigating and prosecuting paramilitary organizations.

The battles prepared him for his time on Colombia’s Supreme Court, where he led the investigative wing with the power to prosecute congressmen. Velásquez and his team started what became known as the “parapolitics” investigation, in which they jailed and sentenced numerous congressmen for their ties to the paramilitary groups.

Some of the congressmen were allies of then-President Álvaro Uribe. One of the congressmen was Uribe’s cousin. In what would become a pattern, the president and his allies tried to smear the judge. But Velasquez survived, even outlasting Uribe.

In 2013, he became commissioner of the CICIG. The commission had already been in Guatemala for six years and most thought he would simply set up a nice exit ramp. Instead, he created an ambitious agenda that has led to the prosecution of two current and two ex Guatemalan presidents, and that is when the real fun began.

Hosted by Héctor Silva Ávalos and Steven Dudley. Edited by María Paola Martínez. Produced by Steven Dudley.

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