Friday, September 19, 2014

Alvaro Uribe on the Defensive

Sen. Ivan Cepeda on a television in Paloquemao
fruit market during this week's debate.
Leftist Senator Ivan Cepeda's father was murdered by right-wing paramilitaries.

Right-wing Senator Alvaro Uribe's father was murdered by left-wing guerrillas.

This week, mutual accusations in Congress between these ideological opposites created a drama which gripped much of Colombia.

Cepeda, a leader of the Polo Democratico Alternativo party, has also been a human rights activist and spokesman for the Movement of Victims of Crimes by the State (MOVICE). Cepeda's human rights activism is probably rooted in the story of his father, Manuel Cepeda Vargas, a Communist Party leader who was murdered in Bogotá in 1994 by right-wing paramilitaries linked to the regular military.

Sen. Alvaro Uribe hits back during the debate.
The Colombian public official most frequently accused of human rights violations in recent years is undoubtedly ex-Pres. Alvaro Uribe. Uribe remains hugely popular among many Colombians because during his two presidential terms, from 2002-2010, he stabilized the country and drove back leftist guerrilla groups, which threatened to make Colombia a failed state. However, Uribe's accomplishments came at a great cost in human rights. Both before and during his presidency, it was an open secret that the military worked collaborated with outlaw right-wing paramilitary organizations, which committed wholesale massacres of peasants suspected of guerrilla sympathies. Uribe's presidency also saw the notorious Falsos Positivos scandal, in which military units were given bonuses and time off for killing guerrillas. Some military units responded by kidnapping young men who were not guerrillas, killing them and dressing them up as guerrillas in order to earn the bonuses. Thousands of youths were murdered that way.

'Uribe never again.' at an anti-Uribe protest
in the Universidad Nacional.
So, Cepeda had lots of potential ammunition. His accusations against Uribe ranged from alleged working with Pablo Escobar's cocaine cartel to helping create the paramilitary groups while governor of Antioquia Province in the 1990s and even a link to the 1986 assassination in Bogotá of legendary newspaper editor Guillermo Cano.

Each of these accusations contains at least a grain of truth.

Uribe's father, Alberto Uribe Sierra, was a prominent rancher, who traveled to his ranch, the Guacharacas, by helicopter to evade the guerrillas who roamed the region. On June 14, 1983 Uribe was at his ranch when three FARC guerrillas arrived. There was a shoot-out, in which the elder Uribe was killed by bullets in the head and chest. (The younger Uribe has, unsurprisingly, spent much of his political career attacking the guerrillas and the left generally.) The guerrillas also shot up the helicopter, disabling it.

The younger Uribe eventually sold the helicopter, and - strangely - it was later found, repaired, on Tranquilandia, Pablo Escobar's cocaine-making complex in southern Colombia. In addition, the elder Uribe was reportedly a friend of the Ochoa brothers, who were part of Escobar's Medellin drug cartel.

But a friendship and a helicopter sale aren't proof of wrongdoing. And, in any case, a son isn't responsible for his father's sins.

Regarding newspaperman Cano's murder, Cepeda said that Uribe had been on the board of directors of a company belonging to a businessman convicted for participation in the assassination. That strikes me as a particularly thin reed to tie a murder charge to. (Escobar is generally believed to have been behind the killing.)

In Congress, Cepeda also charged that Uribe had been - at the very least - permissive with the mushrooming paramilitary forces during his 1995-97 term as governor of Medellin. Cepeda offered videos and recordings of ex-paramilitary leaders implicating Uribe, who denies the accusations.

And Cepeda accused Uribe of having met with paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso on Uribe's Antioquia estate, El Ubérrimo. Mancuso, now in a U.S. prison, says he visited Uribe, who thanked him for helping improve security in the region, and that the paramilitaries supported Uribe's presidential campaign.

Such charges have long harried Uribe, who is fighting dozens of charges in Congress's Committee of Accusations, as well as seven investigations in the Attorney General's office. But, as yet, no charges have stuck. Uribe denies having ever collaborated with paramilitaries.

Uribe, for his part, hurled charges in all directions: He accused Cepeda of being a guerrilla ally and accused President Santos of accepting drug money for his campaign. Cepeda and Santos deny the accusations.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Daniel Krohn said...

Do Colombian politicians do anything besides level accusations at each other and try to discredit one another? Not saying that politicians in the US are super productive, but it seems that there is a line that isn't crossed. Most of the differences seem to be ideological and among political parties (except during elections). Here in Colombia, it's personal. These guys want to drag each others name through the mud, slander each other and put one another in prison.

Miguel said...

Well, I'm not sure that politicians in other countries do much more than insult and accuse each other. That said, it does seem to me that Latin American political parties are built much more around personalities than issues.