Sparks fly as Colombia Senate prepares for heated debate on alleged Uribe parapolitics, narcotrafficking

Alvaro Uribe (L) and Ivan Cepeda(Photo: Semana)

The Colombian Senate is preparing to hold a debate on Senator and former President Alvaro Uribe’s alleged ties to paramilitarism and narcotrafficking, in what already promises to be a heated clash between two of the most diametrically opposed forces in contemporary national politics.

After an initial version was voted down on the Senate floor by Uribe loyalists and various coalition members, opposition Senator and staunch Uribe critic Ivan Cepeda took his proposal to the Senate’s Second Committee, where it was approved Tuesday by a vote of 10-3.

MORE: Debate over Uribe’s alleged paramilitary past shot down in Senate 

The purpose isn’t to “throw accusations” at Uribe, said Cepeda, in an interview with Colombia Reports, but rather, “to bring clarity to topics of historical importance and new political relevance.”

“We don’t make accusations, like Senator Uribe has done,” said Cepeda, referring to uncorroborated allegations launched by Uribe and his allies implying that Cepeda is a political tool of the FARC rebel group, Colombia’s largest. “What we do is present facts, and in this case, the facts are ample.”

Cepeda is chosing not to disclose what specific evidence he will be presenting in the upcoming debate, the date of which has yet to be determined. He did confirm to Colombia Reports, however, that “narcotrafficking and paramilitarism” will be the focuses of his arguments.

Uribe, the much-maligned

At one point during his presidency, the first to be allowed two terms in Colombian history, Alvaro Uribe had a favorability rating of over 90%.

Since leaving office in 2010, however, the legacy of his government has devolved into a litany of accusations, charges, and prosecuted indictments that run the gamut from petty corruption to massive national conspiracy.

MORE: When did it all go wrong, Alvaro Uribe? 

Throughout Uribe’s United States-funded Democratic Security offensive, the Colombian military worked closely with the right-wing paramilitary death squads terorizing the Colombian countryside. So-called “false positives” — extrajudicial executions of civilians later passed off as rebel combat kills — were only the most visible of the many systemic human rights abuses attributed to the military during the hardline Uribe presidency.

Similarly, Uribe’s time in office marked the height of the “parapolitics” scandal, in which significant portions of Congress and the public sector were shown to have coordinated directly with paramilitary groups responsible for much of Colombia’s astronomical rates of political violence during that period. Alvaro’s brother, Santiago, was just one of the many prominent figures from Uribe’s inner circle to become implicated in the scandal.

MORE: Colombian paramilitary financier says Uribe extradited him to keep quiet about regime’s paramilitary ties

Among other things, Santiago has been accused by a former high-level paramilitary commander of arranging the financial relationship between multinationals in the northern banana-growing region and the AUC paramilitary block, using the CONVIVIR “civilian intelligence” groups propogated by his brother, then the governor of the state of Antioquia, as fronts to launder money to the paramilitaries.

MORE: Paramilitary victims’ families ‘disappointed’ over Chiquita case dismissal, seek reversal

Uribe’s career in Antioquia politics has also produced numerous alleged ties to the state’s infamous narco powers, including Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, for whom Uribe, once the director of civil aviation, allegedly authorized airstrips and permits used to traffic cocaine.

Perhaps the most lasting of Uribe’s alleged offenses is his handling of the 2006 paramilitary demobilization, which the Human Rights Watch has characterized as a “sham.” Uribe’s Justice and Peace process has been cast as a mechanism to grant impunity to the worst human rights offenders in Colombia’s 50-year armed conflict, some of whom have testified against the former president, and the neo-paramilitary groups that emerged following demobilization have since taken control of the country’s narcotics and illegal mining trades.

A personal vendetta?

In 1994, Ivan Cepeda’s father, a leftist senator himself, was assassinated on the streets of Bogota as part of the Partriotic Union (Union Patriotica) Massacre, a political extermination campaign leveled against demobilized guerrillas, labor leaders, and leftist political figures through the coordinated efforts of the state, the military, and various paramilitary groups.

Already a human rights activist at the time of his father’s death, Cepeda would go on to form a prominent group representing victims of state and state-sponsored violence, becoming one of Uribe’s most outspoken critics after returning from forced exile in 2003.

When international pressure began to build regarding the elder Cepeda’s murder, the Uribe administration responded defiantly. Uribe himself denied, against the existing evidence, that the state was involved in the assassination, and two of his ministers, disgraced Agricultural Minister and current state fugititive Andres Felipe Arias and current Senator Jose Obdulio Gaviria, took to the Colombian media to imply Ivan was a guerrilla puppet.

Cepeda — who has had several heated confrontations with Uribe and his supporters in Congress in recent weeks — has called the guerrilla allegations “absurd.” But Uribe loyalists continue to use the narrative to attack Cepeda’s most recent criticism of the former president.

Senator Obdulio, for instance, recently characterized Cepeda’s proposed debate as a “conceptual massacre and historical massacre” waged against Urbie personally in violation of “our legtimacy as congressman.” To which Cepeda replied, “There are no massacre here. The massacres occurred in Antioquia, Doctor Obdulio, many. And we’re going to have the chance to talk about those types of issues.”

MORE: Colombia opposition senator receives death threat amid congressional Uribe probe 

Earlier this week, Cepeda, who has faced exile twice due to repeated death threats, received an invitation to his own funeral, signed by one of Colombia’s two most prominent neoparamilitary groups.

The debate

Uribe reacted incredulously when the debate was first approved in the Second Committee, and has since given indications that he may not participate. But Cepeda is confident the debate will be held in the coming weeks.

“Well, the proposal has been approved, and we’re going to determine a date and have a debate, even though Senator Uribe has done everything possible to prevent that from happening,” said Cepeda.

While a number of formal congressional investigations have already been launched into Alvaro Uribe’s alleged ties to paramilitarism and narcotrafficking, the processes have stalled and “not produced even the slightest result,” according to Cepeda.

It is still not clear what juridical implications the upcoming debate might have, if any, but Cepeda feels the debate can achieve goals outside of the justice sytem.

“A debate is a formal process of Congress, and that has final political consequences,” he said. Judicial consequences or not, Cepeda seems determined to antagonize the former president’s return to Congress.

“We’re not going to allow ourselves to be intimidated here,” he said, regarding “Uribe’s desperate efforts” to blcok the debate. “And we are going to have a firm and definitive debate. So prepare yourself four the next for years [Senator Obdulio], because the reign of terror has ended.”


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