The Senate’s Second Committee will take center stage in Colombian politics on September 18, when it is now set to debate the issue of Senator and former President Alvaro Uribe’s alleged ties to paramilitary death squads and drug trafficking.
On Friday, the committee announced the date for the much-awaited showdown, which was approved earlier this week in the face of loud protests from Uribe loyalists, and pits two of the most powerful and diametrically opposed forces in the national discourse against one another.
Senator and longtime human rights advocate Ivan Cepeda, who saw his initial proposal to hold the debate on the full Senate floor defeated, later confirmed the schedule on his Twitter account.
Mesa directiva de Comisión 2a anuncia que mi debate sobre Uribe y narcoparamilitarismo será el 18/9, televisado y en recinto del Senado.
— Iván Cepeda Castro (@IvanCepedaCast) August 8, 2014
In a previous interview with Colombia Reports, Cepeda indicated that committee hearing typically last one day, though in this case, there would be the possibility of extending discussion.
Cepeda, a staunch opposition voice throughout the Uribe presidency (2002-2010), was reluctant to divulge any of the specific points he plans to bring up during the session, but did say his arguments would center around the widespread allegations that Uribe was involved in “parapolitics and narcotrafficking” for much of his political career.
Responding to the claims made by various Uribe supporters that the debate is nothing more than a personally motivated smear campaign, Cepeda said, “We are going to have a calm, fact-based, democratic debate.”
According to the written proposal presented to the full Senate, Cepeda has called on the ministers of justice and the interior, the director of the civil aeronautics agency, the director of the National Police’s Anti-Narcotics Division, and Senator Uribe himself to testify at the hearing. The comptroller, inspector, and prosecutor generals will also be formally invited to attend.
Senator Cepeda’s stated questions to these officials include:
- What steps has the Ministry [of the Interior] taken to assure the historic clarification of facts that allegedly involve former Governor and former President Alvaro Uribe, regarding the activities of paramilitary and narcotrafficking groups and in accordance with the testimony of demobilized former members?
- What steps has the Ministry [of Justice] taken to guarantee the rights of victims of paramilitary groups, which, in investigations, have been linked to politicians, businessmen, large landowners, and cattle ranchers who have encouraged, supported, and financed the criminal acts perpetrated by those illegal groups.
- Within the [Civil Aeronautics Agency], have you detected any cases of officials favoring persons tied to narcotrafficking [as Uribe is accused of having done with Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel during his tenure as agency director in the 1980s]?
The questions list is not final or binding, and Cepeda will have plenty of additional material to work with.
The charges laid against Uribe during and after his presidency are numerous. Among other things, Uribe stands accused of actively promoting and coordinating with parmalitary groups in the country, including in the failed 2006 demobilization process initiated during his presidency. His career in Antioquia state politics has been similarly marred by charges of paramilitary collusion and close ties to the state’s powerful narco interests.
Various members of Uribe’s inner circle and family have already fallen to charges of corruption and parapolitics, and the senator himself is the subject of a number of stalled congressional investigations. Recent examples include Maria del Pilar Hurtado, the former intelligence director accused of spying on Supreme Court justices, journalists, opposition politicians, and human rights workers investigating the parapolitics scandal, and Andres Felipe Arias, the former minister of agriculture convicted of having directed millions in agricultural subsidies to wealthy landowners, both of whom are currently fugitives from justice.
Uribe, for his part, has characterized the debate as an attempt to “defame” him and demanded, in a recent spat with Cepeda in the Second Committee, “the right to defend [his] honor,” an opportunity he will be given during next month’s hearing, Cepeda insists.
Neither senator could be reached prior to the publication of this article, and spokesmen from their offices declined to comment.
- Debate Proposal (Senate)