It is ironic that given the shortcomings of justice in Colombia, the Supreme Court can be considered the best of 2009. The evidence, however, leaves no doubt that this Institution has been crucial for saving what little remains of Colombia as a respectable republic.
The Supreme Court, its magistrates and their decisions (or lack thereof) have elicited more public debate than ever before. In most part the debate was the result of the head-on collision with the Executive. Nevertheless, the following episodes speak volumes of the excellent job carried out by the Court despite the obvious inconveniences and dangers of imparting justice in Colombia; especially when people in the receiving end are connected to the highest spheres of power.
In February, when the DAS’s (Colombia’s security apparatus) illegal wiretapping scandal exploded, the Supreme Court’s 23 magistrates officially revealed the intimidation that for more than a year they had been subject to. The intimidation began when they were investigating the para-politics scandal. Most of the congressmen belonged to the government coalition. The magistrates were also publicly discredited by government officials with information that was illegally gathered by the DAS.
In April, the Court elected a new president, Augusto José Ibáñez Guzmán, after months of deadlock. Ibáñez was considered a conciliatory figure, yet a defender of the Court’s independence. Just days after assuming the presidency, Ibáñez sent a letter to the President demanding explanations for the DAS’ illegal interceptions to Supreme Court magistrates – the DAS follows orders directly from the presidency. Yet, Uribe never responded and relations only worsen.
By June, the Supreme Court’s pressure on Congressmen reached a tipping point. The Interior and Justice Minister (whose brother, former chief prosecutor of Medellin, is accused of links with the paramilitaries) proposed the introduction of parliamentary immunity. Thus, the 86 House of Representatives members, who were being preliminarily investigated for voting the referendum without the certification on the referendum’s finances, could vote the referendum without fear of further investigations. Surprisingly the proposal was censured by all the pro-Uribe presidential candidates.
But the Supreme Court did not have the support of the Uribistas when the Institution refused (and continues) to elect a Prosecutor General (PG). The three candidates initially selected by the President fulfilled all the constitutional requirements, yet the Court declared the selection inviable. The Court is supporting its decision on international treaties that requires the PG to be well-versed in penal law. A criterion that none of the candidates, even the two new candidates, can meet. There are a number of cases affecting the government that the new Prosecutor needs to decide on.
After these episodes and new threats, the Supreme Court became more assertive. On September 15, the Court decided that congressmen who renounce to congress could still be investigated by the Court. By renouncing to Congress 30 politicians sought to be investigated by the PG and thus avoid the Court’s implacability. Among the politicians affected by the decision is Mario Uribe, President Uribe’s cousin.
Moreover, On September 25, the Court opened a preliminary investigation against Inspector General (IP), Alejandro Ordóñez, for acting against legal procedure when absolving two Ministers accused of bribing two congress people to change their vote. The outgoing IP had found them guilty but never signed the verdict. Congresswoman, Yidis Medina, was sentenced to 4 years in jail for accepting the bribes. Her vote was essential to Uribe’s first re-election.
But one of the most important decisions by the Court came in early December when a former Governor of a northern state, Salvador Arana, was sentenced to 40 years in jail for masterminding the assassination of Eudaldo León Díaz, a small town’s ex-mayor. Díaz, from the Democratic Pole political party, foretold his assassination in front of Uribe, who chaired a communitarian council with Arana on his right. Díaz spoke out against corruption at the departmental level. Two months later, with no security from the state whatsoever, Díaz was tortured and killed. Months later Uribe sent Arana to Chile as ambassador.
This case is important for one other reason. Arana was also found guilty of crimes against humanity for aligning with paramilitary death squads in order to consolidate his political position in the region. This was the first time of such sentence. All the politicians investigated for links with the paramilitaries can expect the same fate.
2009 ended with hope that Colombia’s worst criminals will be brought to justice, let’s receive 2010 with some more hope that millions of Colombians will find justice.