Colombia’s former president, Senator-elect Alvaro Uribe, met with one of Colombia’s most controversial political parties over the weekend to seek support for his party’s presidential candidate, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.
The meeting and possible alliance between Uribe and Zuluaga’s Democratic Center (Centro Democratico – CD) and representatives of the Citizens’ Options (Opcion Ciudadana – OC) is controversial because of the OC leaders’ ties to criminal politicians and suspected voter fraud in Colombia’s latest congressional election, those held in March of this year.
Why the controversy?
Citizens’ Option was originally called Citizens’ Convergence (Convergencia Ciudadana), a party in the governing coalition of Uribe (2002-2010). Following the arrest of the majority of its political leaders over the help they had received from death squads to get elected int0 Congress, the party was renamed the National Integration Party (Partido de Integracion Nacional – PIN). The imprisoned Congressmen were replaced by family members or close political allies and received a surprising 8.4% of the votes in the 2010 Congressional election.
The PIN changed its name in 2013 and became the OC, which got three senate seats in the March elections mostly from the northern Sucre department where electoral observers witnessed a 45% higher turnout than Colombia’s national average. According to the MOE, an electoral watchdog, a higher than average voter turnout tends to indicate voter fraud through vote-buying had taken place.
An alliance between the controversial party and the Democratic Center raises questions about a potential para-politics resurgence due to the Democratic Center’s own history and “parapolitics” allegations Uribe and Zuluaga are already facing.
Uribe and the paramilitaries
During Uribe’s presidency from 2002-2010, ties were found between the AUC and members of the Uribe government when computers were seized in 2006 showing that paramilitaries had signed pacts with politicians. The computer of AUC commander “Jorge 40” provided the physical evidence corroborating claims by then-opposition senator Gustavo Petro and AUC commander-in-chief Salvatore Mancuso that Congress had been infiltrated by paramilitary frontmen.
Since then, more than 45 congressmen, the majority of which members of Uribe’s subsequent coalitions, have been sentenced for their ties to the AUC. Dozens more former congressmen are under investigation.
With both parties involved in the potential alliance having such strong links to previous parapolitics scandals, questions were raised as to whether the Democratic Center will use the alliance as means to gain more votes for their presidential candidate, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, himself subject of a criminal investigation over alleged paramilitary support.
Worries which are only heightened when Candidate Zuluaga gave the ambiguous statement that things are on the “right track” when asked about the controversial party’s endorsement on May 25.
Blatant parapolitician involvement
Suspicions about the political alliance and subsequent potential paramilitary links were only heightened with the presence of convicted parapolitician Alfonso Riaño at the meeting. With regards to Riaño and his activity in parapolitics, he was the former House Representative for Santander before his arrest in January 2012 on conspiracy charges which held a sentence of 90 months imprisonment.
The former member of the CC was convicted for receiving electoral support from the AUC’s Central Bolivar Bloc after making a deal with its leader “Ernesto Baez.”
The verdict by the court stated that “Riaño had alliances with paramilitary members in order to gain favorable election results” and he was imprisoned until his release in March 2012.
However, Riaño wasn’t the only person present at the meeting with paramilitary ties. Key members of the Citizens’ Option party with well-known para-politics histories were also present such as Senator Doris Vega, wife of former Senator Luis Alberto Gil, convicted para-politician, Senator Nerthink Mauricio Aguilar, son of Colonel Hugo Aguilar, convicted para-politician, and the party’s President Angel Alirio Moreno who was head of the discredited PIN party.
Further controversy with regards to the meeting arose when Moreno denied the presence of Riaño, stating that it was in fact his brother, William Riaño, who had attended. When confronted with photographic evidence however, Moreno changed his story, conceding that it was in fact Alfonso Riaño who had been in attendance.
Additionally, several attending the meeting said that everyone had noticed the presence of Alfonso Riaño at the meeting and members of the Uribe campaign, when questioned about the presence of Riaño, said that they were well aware of who was present, according to Vanguardia newspaper. Such a relaxed response to the presence of a convicted criminal is alarming as it reflects a sense of normalcy within the party with regard to the mixing of politics and paramilitary affiliates.
According to research journalist turned Senator, Claudia Lopez, “What this shows is that there is a shameful shoulder to shoulder fight for Santos and Oscar Ivan Zuluaga to stick with parapolitical party support,” reported La Vanguardia newspaper.
Lopez continued that “although from a legal point of view there is nothing objectionable, from the point of view of the ethical and moral, there are many questions.”
Senator-elect Uribe came back into power in the congressional elections on March 9 with his party gaining 2,230,208 votes.
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