What Happened With Colombia’s Former President, Álvaro Uribe, And Why You Should Care

Álvaro Uribe Vélez BELatina Latinx
Photo credit via centralrtc.com

On August 4, former Colombian president and senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez posted on Twitter a message feared by some and longed for by others, , but that left no Colombian indifferent: he would be deprived of his liberty. 

The message  concerned  the Supreme Court of Justice’s decision  to put the former president in preventive detention given  the possibility that he might interfere with a criminal investigation against him for allegedly manipulating witnesses. The story is complicated  because it has many levels that intersect both his possible personal actions, the history of Colombia, and the armed conflict in the country. 

Uribe governed the country between 2002 and 2010 has been a senator since he left the presidency; is the mentor of current Colombian President Iván Duque, and has been one of the fiercest opponents of the peace process with the FARC guerrillas. 

These few points of departure already make it clear why his arrest has left no one indifferent: Uribe is at the heart of the country’s modern history. 

Paramilitarism

The long chronology that leads to this point begins in September 2011, when opposition congressman Iván Cepeda presented to the Attorney General’s Office the statements of two former paramilitaries, Pablo Hernán Sierra García and Juan Guillermo Monsalve Pineda, in which they linked Álvaro Uribe and his brother, Santiago Uribe, in the founding of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia in Antioquia and the Bloque Metro. That is, private armies formed to confront the guerrilla groups that operated in the country in favor of individual  interests. 

Over time, these paramilitary groups not only defended cattle breeders and large landowners but were also linked to the drug trafficking business and perpetrated dozens of massacres throughout the country. According to the specialized website, Rutas del Conflicto, the Bloque Metro is responsible for 33 killings  between 1997 and 2002. 

In February 2012, former President Uribe denounced Congressman Iván Cepeda for presenting false testimonies. Months later,  Cepeda presented more evidence  in a political control debate in the Senate. He linked Santiago Uribe the former President’s brother  to the creation of another paramilitary group: Los 12 Apóstoles (The 12 Apostles). 

Cepeda presented these same testimonies  in the second debate in 2014 which was the turning point because as soon as it concluded, former President Uribe left the Senate to present some interviews to the Supreme Court according to which Cepeda had manipulated witnesses against Uribe. 

The Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice investigated Iván Cepeda for this lawsuit.The investigation  found that it was Uribe who had manipulated witnesses, through his lawyer, Diego Cadena. Four years later, in February 2018, the Supreme Court announced that it was closing the investigation against Cepeda and would certify copies for the opening of a new investigation against Uribe for witness tampering found in the course of the previous query. 

According to the  tapes, Uribe’s lawyer, Diego Cadena, was sent to the prison where former paramilitary Juan Guillermo Monsalve Pineda was being held to try to pressure and dissuade him to retract the statements he had made to Cepeda and modify his statement in Uribe’s favor. 

The investigation into these charges is still ongoing, and it’s the reason why  the Supreme Court ordered the preventive detention of the former president.The pre-trial detention may last up to one year, and it is expected that during this time, the Court will reach a conclusive decision. 

Why does it matter?

The pre-trial detention of former President and Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez is important for two reasons: it is the first time in modern Colombian history that such an influential politician has been detained in the course of an investigation, and Uribe is the subject of several other inquiries , including for crimes against humanity.

Among other charges against  Uribe is his involvement in the so-called “False Positives”: extrajudicial executions of civilians including teenagers or people with severe physical or mental disabilities carried out by the army during his tenure. 

In response to the arrest of the former president, the association of Mothers of False Positives of Colombia, MAFAPO Colombia, commented that if he was arrested preventively, it would not have been because he had been “picking coffee,”hinting at anticipated guilt.