The most powerful opponent of the ongoing Colombian peace process is the country’s former president, Álvaro Uribe.
In 2014, after fifty years of brutal armed conflict that has left 5.5 million victims, peace in Colombia could finally be a reality. The Government of the moderate right wing politician, Juan Manuel Santos, has been negotiating with the far-left FARC guerrillas for a year and agreed upon two important issues: addressing the unfair distribution of land and carry out reforms regarding the countryside, and political participation by the opposition and the social movements without running the risk of being persecuted or killed.
Hopefully they will reach an agreement concerning the remaining topics: drugs, the ceasefire, the reintegration of the guerrillas into society and the victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparation. The last issue is without doubt going to be the most difficult, along with the implementation of the whole agreement.
But the peace process has a powerful opponent: Álvaro Uribe, the former president of the country. He is doing whatever he can to undermine the negotiations, which began in Hurdal, Norway about a year ago and then continued in Havana. From his twitter-account, followed by over two million people, he attacks the process and president Santos with statements like these: «When he was a minister and presidential candidate, the terrorists were terrorists. Now they are ‘political actors’». Uribe can’t forgive that Santos, once his Minister of Defense, is now advocating a political solution to the armed conflict.
By criticizing the peace talks, Uribe is trying to win voters to his election campaign this spring, where his far right party «Uribe Centro Democrático» (Uribe Democratic Center) is the Government’s most dangerous competitor. Since the Constitution dictates that Uribe cannot again become president, he is only the top party candidate for the congresional elections in March. Oscar Iván Zuluaga, seen by some to be Uribe’s puppet, hopes to win the presidential elections in May.
Uribe was elected President in 2002 because his political program, which promised to recover the national security by military means, resonated with a strong sense of insecurity felt by many. A former peace process had already broken down, and the kidnappings committed by the guerrilla groups were provoking feelings of fear and anger. Uribe himself had suffered deeply when his father was kidnapped and killed by the FARC guerrilla in 1983.
In 2010 Uribe ended his second presidential term with 75 percent popularity rating. Many Colombians experienced the country as a safer place during his eight years in power. Guerrilla camps were bombed, guerrilla leaders killed and the number of kidnappings reduced drastically. At the same time, he implemented a huge demobilization of the far-right paramilitary groups. However, the other side of the coin is not as well known:
«Uribe must be investigated for promoting and supporting paramiliary groups, not only as the Governor of Antioquia but also as the President of Colombia», a high ranking judge recently demanded. Is it possible that such a powerful politician didn’t know what was going on around him? The judge mentioned a series of Uribe’s controversial connections, among them the retired army general Rito Alejo del Rio, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the killing of a peasant decapitated by the paramilitary groups in the late 1990s.
The police general Mauricio Santoyo, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison in the USA for drug trafficking and for aiding the paramilitaries, is another example. He worked with Uribe when he was Governor of Antioquia, and later served as security chief for then-President Uribe from 2002 to 2005. Jorge Noguera, a former director of Colombia’s domestic intelligence agency DAS, was another political ally found guilty of conspiring with paramilitaries. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison for providing right-wing death squads with lists of leftist activists and labor union leaders, some of whom later turned up dead.
The judge delivered his well-founded considerations to the Colombian Congress’ Investigation and Accusation Commission, the only institution that is entitled to investigate former presidents. The commission has recieved 274 cases regarding Uribe, among them 27 related to paramilitary groups. Like over 90 procent of the Commission’s other investigations, this too is still in a «preliminar stage».
The Congress itself has a criminal record: One third of all Colombian congressmen from the last decade have been investigated for receiving support from, and cooperating with the paramilitaries. 80 percent of them are former members of Uribe’s political coalition. Until now, at least 40 of them have been found guilty.
If the Congress doesn’t have the power to judge Uribe, the fact that the International Criminal Court in Hague is considering opening a formal investigation in Colombia, might pose a more serious threat to the former president. The court is looking into a possible case against Uribe for his alleged role in the extrajudicial killing of 3,000 innocent civilians who security forces presented as left-wing rebels killed in combat.
It remains to be determined how much responsability Álvaro Uribe really had in relation to these and other crimes. In the meantime he continues to campaign against the peace talks and insists that it is unacceptable to negotiate with the FARC guerrillas. In the end, his opposition seems to be a way to detract from the criticism directed against him and his allies. But if Colombia is going to succeed in it’s attempt to make peace, the war-ridden society must be willing to confront it’s past. This means that the whole truth about Uribe’s years in power must come out.