Colombia’s chief of police said he and other officers have used exorcism and prayer to tackle crime and the country’s most powerful criminals, including drug cartel leader Pablo Escobar.
Sitting in his office surrounded by crucifixes, effigies of the Virgin Mary and other Catholic symbols, General Henry Sanabria told local media on Saturday that these religious practices have helped the police throughout the last 50 years of armed conflict in the South American country.
As examples, he recalled police operations in which Escobar (in 1993), FARC guerrilla leader Alfonso Cano (2011) and his military chief known as “Mono Jojoy” (2010) were killed.
“The existence of the devil is certain. I have seen him. I have felt him,” Sanabria said in an interview with Semana magazine, making the sign of the cross at every mention of the devil.
He told the magazine that recently a small group of unarmed police officers was surrounded by hundreds of violent protesters. Sanabria said that he arrived at the scene and pulled out a crucifix.
“They picked up everything and left,” Sanabria said. “The policemen looked at me. They didn’t dare ask me what had happened.”
Sanabria claimed criminals use witchcraft, and said in one operation a police officer had been able to kill one of them by “praying while shooting.”
His statements have sparked fierce debates on social media in Colombia, a secular country with Catholic traditions.
President Gustavo Petro did not express concern.
“We know the beliefs of the general, but we try to make sure that these beliefs do not affect the rules, it is as simple as that,” he said. “I think he has respected them, as far as we know.”
Previous statements by the police chief have also caused controversy.
Sanabria has spoken against abortion, which is legal in Colombia until the 24th week of pregnancy, and the use of condoms, which he has called an “abortive method.”
Last October, he described Halloween as a “satanic” holiday and wrote a tweet about Women’s Day on March 8 that was accused of being sexist.
“A woman’s charm makes her husband happy and if she is reasonable, she makes it last. A discreet woman is a gift from the Lord,” he wrote.
In recent days, Colombia has also employed more traditional methods to tackle crime and drug trafficking. Earlier this month, the country’s navy intercepted two so-called “narco subs” — semi-submersible vessels carrying large hauls of cocaine. One of the vessels also had two dead bodies on board.