Is Colombia’s justice system too weak to try the powerful Uribe?

Alvaro Uribe (Image: Twitter)

Colombia’s Supreme Court has “abundant” evidence to jail ex-president Alvaro Uribe on witness tampering charges, but the country’s justice system may be too weak to stand up to the powerful politician.

The court has been gathering evidence to support witness tampering charges since February. Since then, one witness against Uribe has been assassinated and two others survived assassination attempts.

The former president is being investigated for “conspiracy, homicide and other” crimes, according to a court order urging increased protection of witnesses against the far-right politician.

Uribe, who rose to prominence in the shadow of Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel, has been accused of forming death squads as well as dozens of other crimes.

Uribe’s cartel years

Supreme Court president ‘scared to death’

Criminal charges against the former president could rock the very foundation of the country’s judicial system, which has been weakened by decades of corruption and armed conflict.

Supreme Court President Jose Luis Barcelo is “scared to death” to file formal charges, according to Gonzalo Guillen, the editor of La Nueva Prensa and one of Colombia’s most senior journalists.

“The court has found a pattern and identified a group of people who, with Uribe, have agreed to commit crimes,” La Nueva Prensa quoted a prosecution source as saying.

The evidence would include video and audio recordings of associates of Uribe coercing convicted paramilitary fighters whose testimonies could land the former president in prison for decades.

Considering the gravity of the charges and the violence used to silence witnesses, Barcelo should be ordering the arrest of Uribe, multiple sources close to the Supreme Court told La Nueva Prensa.

“If this is not done, the court official in the case is guilty of perverting the course of justice,” according to one source.

Who is killing witnesses against Colombia’s former president?

Uribe vs. Justice

Barcelo is trying to push the investigation forward, claiming that elected officials should be tried by a newly approved chamber that allows those convicted to appeal decisions.

This argument, however, has been rejected in the case against other politicians and is unconstitutional, according to judicial experts consulted by La Nueva Prensa.

“The Supreme Court and Mr. Barcelo cannot pause their duties,” one judicial expert told the newspaper, who stressed that electing the new chamber could take years.

The list of alleged crimes committed by Uribe has been growing for years already. The Supreme Court has 28 criminal cases pending against the former president. Congress has a backlog of more than 185 cases related to crimes allegedly committed by Uribe when he was president.

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