Sunday, June 9, 2013

Like Sons Like Father: The Uribe Polemic Continues

During his presidency, Alvaro Uribe generated either hate or adherence: For some, he was Colombia's savior, for others a warmongering ally of right-wing death squads. And, since he left office, Uribe has continued generating polemic as leader of the opposition to his succesor Juan Manuel Santos.

So, perhaps it's not surprising that Uribe's sons Tomás y Jerónimo Uribe Moreno are generating their own controversies.

At first glance, it's hard to understand why. The young men operate some admirable businesses: Artesanias de Colombia, which markets traditional handicrafts, and EcoEficiencia, which recycles and disposes of hazardous wastes, as well as providing other environmental services. They've also been involved in real estate and the family ranch.

Still, suspicions of favoritism have never gone away. During their father's eight years in power, some of those businesses grew tremendously.

But entrepeneurship deserves its rewards. So perhaps it's just the young men's style - or the reputation inherited from their hard-driving father - or political resentment - that's generated conflict.

Still, questions keep coming up. There were the links to a pyramid scheme. And when Bogotá was reorganizing its waste disposal system a few years ago, the traditional recyclers - poor people who pick thru the garbage on the sidewalk for whatever they can use or sell - charged the Uribe brothers with trying to monopolize the city's recycling industry and eliminate the independent recyclers' way of life.

The Uribes backed off of that recycling plan, altho they continue in the industry.

In 2009 the brothers were accused of receiving favors after a property they purchased outside of Bogotá was rezoned as a free trade area. Soon after that, someone created a Facebook group named 'I commit myself to kill Jerónimo Alberto Uribe, son of Alvaro Uribe.' The group's profile page said they wanted to show the Uribes the 'horror of war.' A young arts student turned out to be behind the Facebook group. He was absolved of any crime.

The brothers were back in the news this April after investigative journalists revealed that they had opened a bank account in a the British Virgin Islands, considered a tax paradise. The Uribes responded that a business partner had decided to open the account there in order to sell handicrafts and that the business had failed.

And last week El Tiempo published a long report about allegations that the brothers had engaged in tax fraud. In today's paper, the Uribes reject the charges and claim that their clients lied.

Throughout the young Uribes' business career has run the suspicion that they have benefited from their name and father's influence. In December 2010, ex-Pres. Uribe and journalist Daniel Coronell clashed on Twitter after Coronell reported that Tomás Uribe had met with a Brazilian construction company seeking contracts in Colombia. Coronell said that, however innocent Tomás Uribe might be, such a meeting didn't look good. The ex-president responded furiously and Coronell asked him to "Explain the fortune of your children."

Thru it all, president and now ex-president Uribe has given no ground in defense of his sons' honor. In 2008, he affirmed "my sons aren't corrupt. They aren't influence traffickers before the state...My sons have chosen to be men of work, honest and serious."

The family also argues that the younger Uribes have no contracts with the state.

It's probably inevitable that the ambitous sons of such a powerful, polarizing figure as ex-Pres. Uribe will attract controversy.

But it's also true that the sons of a president should walk very carefully, and, at a minimum, they've failed at that.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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