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Ex-president’s arrest order could spell the end of Uribismo in Colombia

. Aug 05, 2020
colombia alvaro uribe Alvaro Uribe Velez arrives to the Palace of Justice for the first inquiry made to a ex-president of Colombia for fraud, in 2019. Photo: Sebastian Barros/Shutterstock

Arguably the most powerful politician in Colombia, former President Álvaro Uribe suffered a huge legal defeat on Tuesday, as the country’s Supreme Court ordered he be placed under house arrest as part of a case involving fraud and witness tampering. This marks the first time in Colombia’s history that a former president has been placed under arrest.

Mr. Uribe served as head of state between 2002 and 2010, but the scandal leading to Tuesday’s arrest order related to events in 2012, when the ex-president held a seat in the Senate.

</p> <p>Accused by fellow Senator Ivan Capeda of having links to far-right paramilitary groups, Mr. Uribe sued his colleague for defamation — a ploy that soon backfired. The Supreme Court threw out the former president&#8217;s plea and instead moved to investigate Mr. Uribe over allegations he had coerced potential witnesses who may have provided evidence against him.&nbsp;</p> <p>After months of investigations into these claims, Colombia&#8217;s highest court issued its historic decision.</p> <p>Mr. Uribe pleads his innocence, tweeting that &#8220;the deprivation of my freedom causes me profound sadness for my wife, my family, and the Colombian people who still believe I have done something good for the country.&#8221;</p> <p>Colombian President Iván Duque — himself a political disciple of the right-wing figurehead — went public in defending Mr. Uribe&#8217;s integrity, leading to questions about the extent of the <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/07/20/controversial-role-armed-military-forces-colombia/">separation of powers in the country</a>.</p> <p>Hours after the court&#8217;s decision, the 68-year-old former president announced he had tested positive for Covid-19.</p> <h2>&#8216;Uribismo&#8217; in trouble</h2> <p>The aftermath of the arrest order served to underline how influential Mr. Uribe remains in Colombian politics, from the statements of President Duque to the celebration of the opposition. However, his political clout is clearly waning.</p> <p>His last major blow came during the regional elections of 2019, when Mr. Uribe&#8217;s Democratic Center (DC) party lost key mayorships across the board, namely in Bogotá and Medellín. What&#8217;s more, his conservative coalition only managed victories in two of the country&#8217;s 32 departments, electing governors in Casanare and Vaupés.</p> <p>According to Sebastián Ronderos, a Colombian professor of politics at the University of Essex, these recent losses show that <em>Uribismo</em> is in &#8220;intensive care,&#8221; potentially paving the way for a new political cycle in a nation with a historically conservative agenda.</p> <p>&#8220;Álvaro Uribe established a new power structure around himself when he was elected, with his own personality cult. But now, with his arrest and the popularity of the Iván Duque government collapsing, Uribismo is on life support,&#8221; Mr. Ronderos tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <p>“Mr. Uribe’s house arrest is the most critical stress for the rule of law in Colombia in the last decade,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/05/colombia-uribes-house-arrest-tests-rule-law">Human Rights Watch</a>. “The Duque administration and the ruling party need to respect the court’s decision and independence by ensuring that President Uribe defends himself through the legal process, not through threats of judicial reform and groundless accusations.”</p> <p>Indeed, the fall of Mr. Uribe&#8217;s political sect is not solely down to its leader. President Duque, often called Mr. Uribe&#8217;s &#8216;puppet,&#8217; has been targeted by street protests, with members of the public demanding more funds for public education, less corruption, and changes to labor laws. This unrest lit the fuse for the political bomb that went off on Tuesday, with the former president&#8217;s arrest order.</p> <h2>Terrorism under Uribe</h2> <p>The allegations against Álvaro Uribe involve witness tampering in connection to the &#8216;false positive&#8217; scandal, when <a href="https://www.coha.org/alvaro-uribe-the-most-dangerous-man-in-colombian-politics/">civilians murdered at the hand of the Colombian army</a> and far-right paramilitary groups were erroneously presented to the media as deaths of <em>guerrilleros</em>, members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) or National Liberation Army (ELN).</p> <p>Fighting guerrillas with a &#8220;strong hand&#8221; was always Mr. Uribe&#8217;s motto, and his presidency began as violence rates in the country escalated to over 60 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.</p> <p>A vast portion of the population didn&#8217;t care how President Uribe planned to solve the conflict, they were simply content with the fact that guerrilla forces would be hunted down by the state. At the same time, however, several NGOs denounced human rights violations in Colombia, with at least 2,248 &#8216;false positives&#8217; recorded in Mr. Uribe&#8217;s second term alone.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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