Raoul Arboleda / AFP via Getty Images
Two days were rough for former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, one of the country’s most influential politicians.
Uribe went from a royal producer to a detainee after the country’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that he would be placed under house arrest. Then, on Wednesday, Colombian media reported that he tested positive for coronavirus.
The surprising court decision that the newspaper Bogota road described as “colossally important”, came as the court investigated whether Uribe had been involved in a witness bribery scheme in a contentious trial involving former members of right-wing paramilitary death squads. One of Uribe’s lawyers, Jaime Granados, insisted his client was innocent.
“Uribe has played a central role in Colombia for the past 20 years and has largely determined who holds power,” said Sergio Guzman, director of risk analysis consulting in Colombia, Bogota. “That’s why this is such a significant case.”
Uribe’s allies were outraged by the court’s decision.
Senator Paloma Valencia of the ruling Democratic Center party, which Uribe founded, has called for a review of the judiciary. Some motorists drove around Bogota on Tuesday night, flying flags declaring their allegiance to Uribe. Dario Acevedo, head of the government-run National Center for Historical Memory, called for the Colombian flag to be waved with half the staff.
Uribe’s followers “really believe that he is the greatest Colombian to walk on Colombian soil,” said Polly Martinez, a columnist for the Colombian news magazine. week,,
Uribe’s support stemmed from his two terms as president from 2002 to 2010, when he conducted a US-backed military offensive that badly weakened the Marxist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. Improved security has led to more foreign investment, tourism and economic growth, making Uribe a hero for many Colombians.
Uribe tried to change Colombia’s constitution so he could run for a third term. Although the amendment failed, its approvals helped elect the next two Colombian presidents. Uribe won a seat in the Senate in 2014 and was re-elected in 2018 with more votes than any other legislative candidate.
But Martinez and other critics describe a large and lasting dark side to Uribe’s legacy.
During his presidency, army troops killed thousands of innocent civilians and then claimed to be guerrilla fighters to gain promotions and other benefits. Under Uribe’s custody, intelligence in the administrative security department, known as the DAS, spied on journalists, opposition leaders and Supreme Court justices, a scandal that led to the agency’s dissolution after Uribe left office.
His current legal troubles date back to 2012.
Opposition Senator Ivan Tsepeda then began gathering evidence of Uribe’s alleged support for illegal paramilitary groups that commit massive human rights abuses while fighting guerrillas. Uribe responded by accusing Cepeda of pressuring imprisoned paramilitaries to testify against him.
But in a bizarre twist in 2018, the Supreme Court – which has jurisdiction over cases involving former presidents – acquitted Cepeda and launched an investigation into Uribe for falsifying witnesses. The court is trying to determine whether another of Uribe’s lawyers, with his consent, paid prison soldiers to testify in favor of the former president.
“The evidence against Uribe needs to be solid enough for the Supreme Court to take that step,” Guzman said.
Uribe has not been charged with a crime. When he learned of the house arrest warrant to be served on his ranch in northern Colombia, he tweeted: “The loss of my freedom causes deep sadness for my wife, my family and the Colombians who still believe I did something good. for the fatherland. “
The next day, a spokesman for the Democratic Center told reporters that Uribe had a coronavirus but showed no symptoms.
Incumbent President Ivan Duke, who was elected in 2018 after Uribe approved him, went on national television to insist that his political mentor was a “true patriot” and an innocent man facing numerous false and unjust accusations. .
Duque and other Uribe supporters are particularly upset that the former president, if convicted, could face up to 12 years in prison, while FARC Uribe commanders spent his presidency trying to win, avoiding prison even though they were committed thousands of kidnappings and murders and were deeply involved in cocaine trafficking.
In fact, under the generous terms of Colombia’s 2016 peace deal, which led to the demobilization of the rebel group, five former FARC members now serve in the Senate, while Uribe has been removed from the legislature due to house arrest.
“It hurts me as a Colombian that many of those who have scattered the country with barbarism can defend themselves at large and have a guarantee that they will never go to prison,” Duke said.
But Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the American continent at Human Rights Watch, warned Duke not to undermine Tuesday’s decision, which stood out in Latin America, where judges are often part of ruling parties in high-profile cases.
“Uribe’s house arrest is the most critical stress test for the rule of law in Colombia in the last decade,” Vivanko said. “The Duke administration and the ruling party must respect the court’s decision and independence, ensuring that President Uribe defends himself through legal process and not through threats of judicial reform and baseless accusations.”
For his part, Sepeda, the opposition senator whose investigation eight years ago began the chain of events that led to Uribe’s house arrest, was delighted. He told a news conference that the court’s ruling showed that “no matter how powerful you are, no one is above the law.”