Positive for COVID and under house arrest, Álvaro Uribe is made accountable
One of Colombia’s most influential figures is fighting battles on two fronts.
On Tuesday the Colombian Supreme Court ordered former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez to be placed under house arrest because of an ongoing case that accuses him of witness tampering and fraud in an investigation linking him to paramilitary groups.
This is the first time the country’s highest court has ordered this heightened a measure for a former president.
Uribe wrote on Twitter that his confinement causes his family and supporters profound sadness.
La privación de mi libertad me causa profunda tristeza por mi señora, por mi familia y por los colombianos que todavía creen que algo bueno he hecho por la Patria
— Álvaro Uribe Vélez (@AlvaroUribeVel) August 4, 2020
The next day, the former head of state announced he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Colombia has the sixth-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the Americas as well as the seventh- worst mortality rate in the region according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
He served two terms as president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010 and since 2014 has reclaimed a seat in the country’s Senate.
In 2014, he formed the Democratic Center Party that holds the plurality of seats in both the Chamber of Deputies and Senate as well as the presidency with Iván Duque Márquez
In that year, leftist senator Iván Cepeda accused Uribe of being responsible for the emergence of paramilitary groups that went after thousands affiliated with left-wing guerilla groups.
Cepeda used testimonies from former paramilitary members to affirm his claims and when the case got to the Supreme Court, Uribe claimed the leftist senator manipulated their stories.
There was a deeper investigation as years passed and the recent court ruling suggests there is reason to believe the former president was actually the one engaging in witness tampering and he was placed under house arrest as a potential flight risk.
Uribe is linked to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (UAC), a right-wing paramilitary that used tactics such as extortion, rape and murder to silence the rising influenc of leftist insurgency groups.
The insurgency consisted of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).
All of this follows a scandal in 2015 that resulted in the Supreme Court sentencing the former head of Colombia’s intelligence agency and Uribe’s former chief of staff to prison for spying on journalists, politicians and even members of the high court.
Uribe is still regarded as a major political player in Colombia because he played a pivotal role in promoting the two presidents that followed him, Juan Manuel Santos and Duque.
On Tuesday, current president Duque spoke out on the allegations made against his political mentor and ally.
“I am and will always be a believer in the innocence and honorability of the one who by his example has earned a place in the history of Colombia. As president I call for reflection. I understand the role of institutions and the independence of powers,” he said.
Supporters of Uribe view him as someone who saved the country from collapse because as he squashed the strength of the FARC, security increased, which brought more foregn direct investment.
He was unsuccessful in pushing an amendment to the constitution that would allow him to seek a third term. Many thought he would have won since he left office with a 75% approval rating.
Unlike other Latin American nations, Colombia does not have a recent history that has been marked by arresting former leaders. This was seen as a point of pride for them, especially with Uribe being viewed by his supporters as someone who brought stability to his country.
Peru imprisoned their former president Alberto Fujimori, whose term lasted from 1990 to 2000, and was convicted for human rights abuses. This stemmed from his involvement in killings and kidnappings that were done by government-sanctioned death squads.
The government crackdown on leftists guerilla groups resulted in an estimated 69,000 deaths.
Fujimori has claimed innocence for those charges, but pleaded guilty to various cases of bribery, one of them involving his intelligence chief.
He is still in prison to this day although his daughter, Keiko Fujimori, who has also run for president, has been campaigning for him to be released.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was also a transformative leader for Brazil as his policies brought rapid economic development and lowered income inequality.
After he left power in 2010, he was charged with multiple cases of corruption and money laundering that implicated many senior officials.
He started a 12-year prison sentence in 2018,which his supporters believe was politically motivated as it barred him from running in that year’s presidential elections.
Lula was so popular in Brazil that he was leading right-wing retired military officer Jair Bolsonaro in polls even though he was ineligible from running because of being in prison.
He was released in November 2019 after the Supreme Court ruled that defendants can remain free until they exhaust all of their appeals.