Panama’s granting of political asylum to Maria del Pilar Hurtado, former director of Colombia’s intelligence service DAS, appears to be proof of the political insecurity in Colombia, and of the inability of the government to protect its citizens. It is precisely this insecurity that the U.S. invokes in warning its citizens against travel to Colombia.
The FARC have for a long time borne witness to this lack of security, keeping a disproportionately large number of hostages for as long as they want, and thus demonstrating that the Colombian state is incapable of protecting its citizens and that there is no political security in Colombia.
The question that arises is: what made Panama, instead of refuting the FARC by not responding to the asylum request, confirm what the rebels have long demonstrated? We can answer this question by looking at who wins and who loses from the decision.
Having won political asylum in Panama, Ms. Hurtado can enjoy her freedom, and the investigation into wiretapping is left fractured. The main person implicated in this investigation is ex-President Uribe, who appointed Ms. Hurtado and the directors of DAS, some now in prison or under investigation for their criminal activities. The DAS, the Department of Administrative Security, is an agency which answers directly to the presidency, and then-President Alvaro Uribe had full responsibility for it between 2002 and 2010.
Uribe is the one responsible, as much for his appointments as for his negligence regarding the activities of the agents, and for his encouragement of the criminal activities undertaken by his appointees, which they reported to him every day, according to the testimony given by some of these very officials when they were questioned.
The fact that there wasn’t just one criminal DAS director appointed by Uribe, that they have all been accused in some way, eliminates any doubt over the criminal responsibility of Uribe. If those appointments weren’t enough to incriminate the ex-president, his attempt to remove the officials from the country amid criminal investigations points, without room for hesitation, to his clear complicity and support. President Uribe previously succeeded in removing from the country his first director of DAS, Jorge Noguera, naming him consul in Milan in order to protect him from investigation. But Uribe failed in his first attempt to remove Hurtado, when Switzerland refused her accreditation as Colombia’s ambassador to that country. This aim has now been achieved simply, thanks to a high-level intervention by the Panamanian government.
On January 23 Uribe visited Panama to close various high-level bilateral deals, and since then the bonds of friendship between him and President Ricardo Martinelli of Panama been made very clear, as have their shared objectives, and their personal camaraderie.
No wonder the Panamanian government decreed this asylum at a high level without the intervention of their ambassador in Bogota, thus helping Uribe, the main beneficiary, when the bond between the two presidents has been so celebrated. To grant protection and liberty to Ms. Hurtado, as to any other person associated with ex-President Uribe, whose own sons maintain important businesses in that country, was to be expected.
Colombian justice isn’t in the wrong. There have been corrupt Supreme Courts, like that of Honduras, whose members saw their U.S. entry visas cancelled by the U.S. government. There also exist those that, accused politically of corruption, have courageously managed to ensure justice, like Colombia’s Supreme Court, which has counted on the unconditional support of the U.S. government.
With this grant of asylum to Ms. Hurtado, Panama has proved the FARC right, something which it should have avoided to the utmost of its capacity, and has left a negative global impression of political security in Colombia and the government’s capacity to protect its citizens. This once more corroborates the U.S.’s warning to its citizens not to travel to Colombia.
President Santos, the Foreign Ministry, and the Colombian judiciary should immediately seek the extradition of Ms. Hurtado if they want to avoid new flights from justice, and prevent the exit from the country of those under investigation, especially of those who enjoy the favor of ex-President Uribe; if they want to save Colombia’s name and its international prestige.
Jose Maria Rodriguez Gonzalez is an El Tiempo op-ed contributor and co-author of “El Golpe de Estado en Honduras desde una Perspectiva de los DD HH”. He specializes in United States foreign policy and armed conflict studies.