Colombian justice orders the arrest of former President Alvaro Uribe

At around 7.30pm on Tuesday, half of Colombia erupted in joy while the other half swelled with rage: the country’s Supreme Court ordered the arrest of former Conservative President Álvaro Uribe (2002). -2010), one of the most polarizing figures in Colombian politics.

Uribe himself has been the one who announced it through his social networks: “The deprivation of my freedom causes me deep sadness.” Investigated for alleged procedural fraud and bribery of witnesses, Uribe will receive house arrest while continuing the investigation, which puts on the table the alleged links between the former president and paramilitarism.

“August 4, 2020 will be a day that will mark our history, we do not know in what sense, but it will mark it.” Luis Eduardo Celis, an analyst on conflict and peacebuilding, defines Uribe as “the protagonist of Colombia’s violent history.”

The process leading to the arrest of Álvaro Uribe dates back to 2014, when a senator, Iván Cepeda, brought to the Colombian Senate a debate on the paramilitarism involving the former president. Uribe denounced the allegations, and six years later not only has Cepeda been acquitted but the Supreme Court is now investigating the former president himself.

According to the indictment, Uribe allegedly paid money and offered judicial benefits to former paramilitaries to retract statements that directly implicated him in the creation of paramilitary groups, armed formations that fought the FARC guerrillas and that, in collusion with the army, they exercised social control over much of the country’s territory. The statements of these former paramilitaries state that the group operated from a farm owned by the Uribe family.

From guerrillas to Parliament

The shadow of the links between paramilitarism and Álvaro Uribe has been hovering over the former president for more than a decade, but this is the first time a judicial investigation has hit him hard. “What is at stake is democracy and the division of powers,” says Lucía Mesa Vélez, a political scientist and researcher on the Rodeemos el diálogo platform. “It could give citizens confidence in the judiciary and see that no person is immune from being judged for their actions,” he added.

The figure of Uribe is perhaps the most divisive in Colombia. While several houses uncorked bottles and even organized virtual parties to celebrate the arrest, others lamented the fall of what they consider their hero.

The former president is the only Colombian president to have won both elections, in 2002 and 2006, in the first round. The seat he now holds in the Senate, now won, won him the most votes in the country’s history. He is the founder of the Centro Democrático party, currently in government. President Iván Duque, who has always defined Uribe as his mentor, was quick to defend him: “I am and will always be a believer in the innocence and honor of someone who, with his example, has won a place in the history of Colombia ”.

Atrocious episodes

But Uribe’s governments have been marked as the most virulent of the armed conflict. The former president, who came to power after a failed peace negotiation with the FARC, installed a “change of narrative where the end of the conflict would not come through dialogue but through the military response.” underlines Mesa Vélez, a position that earned him broad social support but also strong animosity. During his tenure, some of the most heinous episodes of the conflict were recorded, such as the killings known as “false positives”, the deaths of civilians perpetrated by the army and recorded as guerrilla casualties. The Colombian Public Prosecutor’s Office recorded at least 2,248 extrajudicial executions between 1998 and 2014: 97% took place under the Uribe government.

“Sending Uribe to prison would not help repair or reconcile Colombian society,” reflects Mesa Vélez. “What will bring reparation is the recognition of the truth, the reparation of the victims and forgiveness.”

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