In his attempts to recover lost political power, former president Alvaro Uribe has been making alliances with the some of the most extreme elements in Colombian politics.
PROFILE: Alvaro Uribe
While the times of Uribe as a mainstream politician seem long gone, the former president still has formidable support among a large chunk of primarily conservative Colombians.
His newly formed party, the Democratic Center, received 15% of votes for the senate in March, and Uribe’s hand-picked presidential candidate, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, nearly beat President Juan Manuel Santos in presidential elections in June.
FACT SHEET: 2014 presidential election results
But Uribe’s control over Colombia’s mainstream politics has diminished and the former president has been forced to seek alliances outside of many of the traditional political power centers.
Among those political groups who back the former president politically is a fascistic youth movement with connections to neo-Nazis.
Uribe has also strengthened ties with ranchers infamous for their proximity with the now-defunct right-wing paramilitary organization AUC, as well as criminal elements within the security and intelligence institutions.
Long history of dodgy friends
While the now-senator has long been accused of some rather unsavory connections — drug lord Pablo Escobar, for example — Uribe was able to gain legitimacy ahead of the 2002 elections by drumming up support from several political sectors.
These included regional political power structures, Liberal elite politicians like Santos and his VP German Vargas, the Conservative Party, the ranchers, and paramilitary group AUC that used the 2002 elections to increase criminal control over Congress, the administration and the judicial branch.
However, as the AUC agreed to lay down its weapons in 2003 and slowly began collaborating with justice over paramilitary allies in the military, politics and business, the then-president and his allies found themselves opposed by the Supreme Court that began sending important allies and even family members of Uribe to prison.
The Supreme Court also found out that the DAS, Colombia’s now-defunct intelligence agency, had been spying on magistrates involved in the investigation of politicians with the alleged complicity of the President’s Office. The wiretapping scandal caused series of major clashes between the judicial branch and Uribe and ultimately the end of the DAS.
MORE: DAS wiretapping scandal
In Uribe’s final year as president, the Supreme Court refused to elect a chief prosecutor from a presidential shortlist, leaving Uribe without control over what the judicial branch would do with the growing number of political allies accused of corruption, ties to criminal organizations or other alleged crimes.
Uribe, who had enjoyed an overwhelming majority in Congress during his two terms in office, lost control of also the executive and legislative branches after the election of Juan Manuel Santos, a former Defense Minister endorsed by the then-sitting president himself.
Following his election in 2010, Santos invited Uribe opponents to his government coalition while leaving Uribe-loyal ministers out.
Additionally, the newly inaugurated president proposed a prosecutor general shortlist and the Supreme Court which then appointed a political opponent of Uribe. Investigations against Uribe allies went on relentlessly.
Left with no control over Congress, the executive or the judicial branch, Uribe’s mainstream allies — nervous about the ongoing incarceration of prominent politicians and families — swore loyalty to Santos, leaving the former president with only a fraction of the political influence he had anticipated have after 2010.
While his concerns over ongoing peace talks with leftist rebel group FARC are supported by half the Colombian population, Uribe’s actual power has virtually been stripped and he was forced to build a political movement and party from the ground up in the lead-up to the 2014 elections.
With the majority of his alienated former in the Santos camp, Uribe was left with a political apparatus that had long surrounded him: political and economic dynasties from the Antioquia state and the coffee region, hard-line members of the military, and Conservatives who were unhappy about their party’s participation in Santos’ increasingly liberal administration.
By the time Colombians voted for president in June earlier this year, the political atmosphere had been strongly polarized between a left-leaning “Santista” camp and their staunchly conservative “Uribista” counterparts.
Uribe’s stripped down political machine saw a larger role for rancher Jose Felix Lafaurie and his wife, devout Catholic Maria Fernando Cabal.
An important base of support, both during Uribe’s presidency and after, has been the national ranchers’ federation Fedegan.
Cabal, a congresswoman with Uribe’s right-wing Democratic Center party, is the wife of Lafaurie, the head of Fedegan. Cabal additionally heads a foundation created by the ranchers’ group.
Fedegan is immensely powerful. The landowners in its ranks own some 30% of Colombian territory.
Fedegan played key roles in financing Uribe’s election campaigns and are staunch opponents of a peace deal with the FARC that would include a redistribution of land.
The ranchers association, however, have also been closely tied to paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces (AUC), a group that began as a counter-revolutionary paramilitary group and ended up killing tens and thousands of Colombians, many of whom were suspected leftists.
Millions were additionally displaced while ranchers and agricultural businesses, thanks to the paramilitaries and corrupt government officials, were able to expand their private property, property that may be taken away as a peace deal with the FARC might result in increased scrutiny of purchased plots.
Lafaurie himself told Colombian news outlet RCN that “the trade group has the courage to assume responsibility that in the passed it financed the country’s paramilitary movement” that was declared a terrorist organization by the US after 9/11.
A newer and possibly more extremist political organization throwing its support behind Uribe is a called the National Restoration movement.
Its website says it aims to a create a Colombia on the political right which is “great, free, and in peace.” In its doctrines, it declares the centrality of Catholicism as the basis for Colombia’s social order.
Other doctrinal positions of the group include a defense of a “corporatist system” in opposition to a “democratic” one. They are against the “system which privileges numbers and the decisions of the majority with differentiating knowledge, abilities, and training.”
While openly rejecting liberalism, the group puts its “trust in a hierarchical and aristocratic society with defined social groups cooperating harmoniously to achieve their ends.”
Opinion articles posted on the group’s website are openly anti-Semitic, with one focused on denouncing the Jewish-Masonic-Communist international conspiracies. Other articles deride the supposed control of the Masons over Colombian politics, including the Santos administration, which it calls “the regime.”
Congresswoman Cabal frequently retweets the group’s pronouncements on Twitter in spite of the organization’s highly controversial ideas and neo-nazis.
One of National Restoration’s current leaders, Eduardo Romano, was a former leader of an openly neo-Nazi group known as the “Third Force.” Romano caused controversy earlier this year when he aggressively attacked a journalist at a victims’ conference on camera after being identified for this past affiliation. He has since attempted to distance himself from that group’s ideology.
National Restoration have been strong supporters of Uribe and the Democratic Center, and though he in passing mentioned their “bravery,” it is unclear how conscious the now-senator is of the group’s presence, support, and ideological composition.
However, photos of leaders of the group with the now-fugitive ex-minister Andres Felipe Arias, conservative activist Jaime Restrepo, former Army commander General Harold Bedoya published earlier this week by website Las 2 Orillas, indicate several ties between Uribe’s political party and some of the more extremist elements in politics.
- ¿Qué hay detrás de Restauración Nacional, el grupo que terminó camuflado entre las víctimas de las Farc? (Las2Orillas)
- El neonazi que se metió a la política (Las2Orillas)
- Las cinco deudas de Fedegán (La Silla Vacia)
- Fiscalía verificará presuntos vínculos de José Félix Lafaurie con paramilitares (La F.m.)
- Nadie se atreve contra Fedegán y Lafaurie (Semana)
- Posiciones Doctrinarias (Restauracion Nacional)