A debate on Senator Alvaro Uribe’s alleged links to now-defunct paramilitary groups was shot down by Colombia’s Senate on Tuesday, after days of the debate monopolizing the first week of the former president’s new political playground.
Senator Ivan Cepeda from the Alternative Democratic Pole (Polo Democrático Alternativo — PDA), a fierce opponent of the the president-turned-senator, proposed a debate over the topic but saw it shot down by the Senate in a 52-30 vote.
During the preliminary debate about whether or not to approve the debate, prominent left-wing and centrist members of congress including Jorge Enrique Robledo, Luis Fernando Velasco and Claudia Lopez spoke in favor of the initiative. Senators Ernesto Macias and Roy Barreras were included in those who spoke against the debate.
Uribe, supported by his bench and numerous senators from other parties, spoke out against the debate. Uribe, despite his apparent opposition to the debate on the Senate floor, voted in favor of the motion. Uribe’s party, the Democratic Center (Centro Democrático — CD) voted against the motion.
Although the U Party and Conservative Party are both officially opposed to the party founded by Uribe, many dozens of (former) senators have been investigated for ties to paramilitary groups which possibly influenced the vote against Cepeda’s proposed debate.
The constitutionally mandated committees that will steer legislative agenda were also chosen during the day’s Senate plenary debates, special committees will be chosen tomorrow, according to Senate President Jose David Name.
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Even before Cepeda was inaugurated into the Senate, he pushed for a debate so that Uribe would be held accountable and investigated for his alleged ties to paramilitary groups.
Uribe has been a fierce critic of Cepeda, while many of Uribe’s allies have called him a “Castro-Chavista,” in reference to Cepeda’s left-wing leanings and alleged support of left-wing leaders Hugo Chavez, Piedad Cordoba and Fidel Castro.
Cepeda’s father, Manuel Cepeda, a member of the Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica — UP) party, was assassinated by factions of the military and paramilitary groups along with thousands of other UP members in 1994. Since then, Ivan Cepeda has been a staunch critic of paramilitary groups and politicians with connections to them in Colombia’s para-politics scandal.
Uribe, President from 2002-2010, witnessed a spike in paramilitary activity and a decrease in guerrilla activity from groups such as the FARC and ELN. The paramilitary umbrella group the AUC officially demobilized during Uribe’s presidency, called a “sham” by groups such as Human Rights Watch, as many leaders received only eight years in prison as a part of the process.
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Uribe formed the CD with the intention of providing an opposition to the government of his ex-minister and former ally Juan Manuel Santos. His candidate for the Presidency in the 2014 Presidential elections, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, placed second, garnering 45% of the vote in the legally mandated second round of elections, after no candidate received more than 50% in the first round of elections.
Uribe’s first cousin, Mario Uribe is currently in prison for his ties to paramilitary groups, while many of Uribe’s political allies – as well as President Juan Manuel Santos’ – have been investigated or questioned for their ties to the illegally armed groups.
Several Congressmen took to Twitter to criticize or defend the decision made by Congress.
Cepeda, the author of the initiative tweeted, “The debate will happen. Although Uribe will try to refuse it.”
El debate se hará. Así intente rehuirlo Uribe.
— Iván Cepeda Castro (@IvanCepedaCast) July 29, 2014
Prominent Senator Juan Manuel Galan of the Liberal Party tweeted, “I voted in favor of the fulfillment of the debate. They defeated us. Democracy in the Senate plenary was defeated.”
Voté a favor de la realización del debate. Nos derrotaron. La democracia en la plenaria del Senado fue derrotada. — Juan Manuel Galán (@juanmanuelgalan) July 29, 2014
Paula Holguin, from the CD tweeted a statement from her fellow party member Ernesto Macias, “Cepeda proposed a debate to transmit personal hatred towards people in Congress.”
“Cepeda propone debate para tramitar odios personales en el Congreso” HS Ernesto Macías en plenaria — Paola Holguín (@PaolaHolguin) July 29, 2014
- Señal del Congreso en vivo (Señal Institucional/Canal Congreso)