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What will happen to Colombian ex-president Álvaro Uribe?

The former president is awaiting a decision of the Supreme Court on an investigation against him for the crimes of bribery and procedural fraud in the case of a purchase of witnesses

Former president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe.

Former president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe. / Photo: Flickr.com/CenterForAmericanProgress

LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Suárez

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Leer en español: ¿Qué pasará con el expresidente colombiano Álvaro Uribe?

On October 8, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, president of Colombia between 2002 and 2010, was presented to a closed-door investigation before the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ, in Spanish). Now, it is expected that after 10 days, although it may take longer, the decision of whether the investigation is continued is known, which would mean starting a trial, or, conversely, the investigation is filed for lack of evidence.

The Colombian population was divided once again and that was demonstrated on the day of the investigation, because while the former president declared, hundreds of opponents gathered around the Plaza de Bolívar, in the center of the city and where he was declaring, to express the need for Uribe to be convicted. For detractors, this case is just one of many more for which Álvaro Uribe should be convicted.

Those who support him also met in another sector of the city, affirming his innocence. Repeatedly, both his followers and himself have said that the opposition has a political persecution against him without foundation.

For now, the discussion does not revolve around whether the former president is guilty or not, or if he will be convicted, but if the CSJ believes there is sufficient and compelling evidence to begin a trial.

The case that led to the investigation

Former President Uribe, one of the strongest and most important political figures in the country, is tried for two alleged crimes: bribery and procedural fraud. This, in the context of a case of false witnesses in the middle of a fight that began with the denunciations of Iván Cepeda, senator of the Republic and detractor of the former president.

The struggle between the two political figures goes back years ago, when in 2014 Cepeda launched a debate on the actions of the State that implied that the former president, while he was governor of Antioquia, had links with paramilitaries. Between complaints, the issue of witness manipulation arose.

At first, it was Uribe who reported that a witness from Cepeda was manipulated. However, this investigation came to an end when Senator Iván Cepeda was acquitted and, on the contrary, initiated the current investigation against Uribe Vélez.

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The lawyer David Rubiano told LatinAmerican Post that “the alleged crimes committed by the former president are supposed to occur towards the beginning of 2018, when different people approached the Juan Monsalve (key witness) to convince him to change his testimony, which said that Uribe, Santiago Uribe (brother of the former president) and others founded the Metro block of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC, in Spanish)”. The implication towards Uribe also comes by ensuring that said block began at the Guacharacas Farm, owned by the Uribe family, for which there are allegedly some images that prove it.

What's coming

To begin with, the simple fact that the CSJ has decided to open the investigation represents an important event due to the relevance of the court and the subject in question. For the first time in the history of Colombia, a former president has been called into inquiry. In addition, it happened with a figure that awakens all kinds of passions in the country. Rubiano says that the investigation "is also an event that greatly warms the political environment, which has experienced a great polarization that was strongly accentuated after the plebiscite."

Now, the Court's decision will determine the steps to follow: whether or not there will be a trial and, if there is one, it can also determine whether there will be an assurance measure for the former president.

To understand the process, Rubiano explains that it consists of the following parts. “At the time, a preliminary investigation was initiated where he was not yet 'formally linked'. This preliminary stage has already been fully filled, since the Court has already inquired about the existence of the event, ”said the lawyer.

“Then, the Court proceeds to open the formal investigation and when this happens inevitably the person is linked as investigated, which implies that this person is called for investigation, which is the act of 'formal bonding'. Subsequently, if the Court decides that there is sufficient material evidence, it could take the former president to trial. ”

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The crimes, as mentioned above, in question are procedural fraud, defined in “Article 453 of the Criminal Code as the action of which by any fraudulent means misleads a public servant to obtain a sentence contrary to law ,” he affirms. Furthermore, “the crime of bribery is regulated by article 444-A of the Criminal Code and implies that someone for the benefit of himself or a third party delivers or promises money or other utility to a person who witnessed a criminal act, to refrain to attend to declare, or so that the truth is lacking, totally or partially”. Both crimes have a prison sentence of 6 to 12 years and, if convicted, he could face maximum penalties.

Polarization continues

The word polarization is continuously present in the Colombian political sphere. The lack of understanding of the other has led to the definition of two opposite sides that are impossible to unite. As proof of this, the plebiscite of 2016 where they voted in favor or against the Peace Agreement with the FARC.

In the midst of the current environment, Colombia has also drawn attention to the position of several members of the government, including President Iván Duque, who on several occasions has expressed his support for Álvaro Uribe.

This, leaving aside political positions, demonstrates a break between the branches of public power. "What this implies is a loss of state legitimacy, as there is no coherence in the actions of the latter, since judicial decisions are unauthorized by the executive and the legislature (of a Uribist majority)," says David Rubiano. This generates a sense of illegitimacy of the State before the population, which leads to affect other sectors of the country.

For Rubiano, beyond the possibilities that exist if former President Uribe would be brought to trial and subsequently convicted, or not, the importance of the case lies in the political and social situation and the very environment of division in the country.

"The current political environment is very hot and divided and increasingly the differences become more irreconcilable and separate more at each end," he says. “This would mean a break in the political history of the country. Polarization would reach unthinkable levels that could trigger new cycles of violence. ”

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