Analysis of the historical arrest of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe

The Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) ordered preventive detention for the current senator of the Republic for an investigation that links him to witness manipulation and procedural fraud.

The decision of the Court would leave the president detained at his residence while the process continues to advance. According to the communiqué published by the Supreme Court, “the order was adopted based on a rigorous legal study on the procedural reality, which indicates possible risks of obstruction of justice, regarding the future collection of evidence of allegedly criminal acts that involve both the senator Álvaro Uribe as the representative Álvaro Hernán Prada Artunduaga”.

The detention can still be reviewed since the defense of the former president will appeal that he can continue the process without the need for detention. According to El Tiempo, "there is a possibility that later the defense may request a revocation of the insurance measure, arguing that the reasons why the restriction of liberty was adopted no longer exist and, therefore, that measure is no longer necessary”. Meanwhile, the CSJ affirmed that even deprived of liberty, Uribe "will be able to continue exercising his defense with all the guarantees of the right to due process."

This is a historic event in the history of Colombia, as the former president becomes the first to have an arrest of this type in the history of the country. Although similar cases have been seen in other Latin American countries such as Fujimori in Peru and Lula da Silva in Brazil, this would be the first to face a deprivation of liberty, even if it is not a conviction.

The case

The case began with a lawsuit that Uribe himself brought against Senator Iván Cepeda in 2014 after Cepeda presented in a congressional debate two testimonies from former paramilitaries who said that Uribe and his brother Santiago had founded the Metro Block of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), in Antioquia. As proof, there would be a photograph of the block on a farm owned by the Uribe family, Hacienda Guacharacas.

According to the lawsuit filed by Uribe Vélez, Cepeda had brought false witnesses and manipulated them to tell lies about his ties to the AUC. However, this case was archived in 2018 and was returned to him as the Investigation Chamber of the Criminal Chamber of the Court opened an investigation into the former president for attempting to manipulate witnesses, especially the key witness: former paramilitary Juan Guillermo Monsalve.

In October 2019, the former president and senator was called to an inquest that at the time represented an important event for the court and for him.

Also read: What will happen to Colombian ex-president Álvaro Uribe?

Despite the fact that the case still has a lot to be discovered and the process is only in an initial phase, the Supreme Court of Justice determined that it had enough evidence to order the arrest. "This material is part of the summary reservation and includes testimonial evidence, judicial inspections, film records, recordings and telephone interceptions, which apparently indicate his alleged participation as a determiner of the crimes of bribery of witnesses in criminal proceedings and procedural fraud" , he stated in the statement.

The responses of the sectors

Álvaro Uribe Vélez is one of the most important political figures in the country today and which has both millions of followers and millions of detractors. Therefore, in response to this decision, two positions were taken around the country, some support the Court's decision and others criticize that it is biased and allege political persecution.

Days before the CSJ decision, the Democratic Center, the party that Uribe leads, sent a letter to the Court in which they showed their support for the former president and rejected attempts to make him look like a criminal. "We are aware, because we work closely with him, that he is a person who acts neatly, within the framework of the law and with total respect for the institutions," the document said.

The letter, in addition to being signed by party members, was also signed by members of the current government such as the Minister of Finance, Alberto Carrasquilla, and the Minister of Defense, Carlos Holmes Trujillo. These actions were rejected because members of the government should not take a political party in a judicial decision, a separate branch of the executive power to which they belong.

In response, the high courts sent a letter one day before the decision in which they alleged that their judicial independence be respected and assured that "the judges will never be able to issue orders motivated by currents of opinion or considerations outside the legal order."

Alleging political precussion and comparing the decision as a similar as one of the Court in which it released FARC member Jesús Santrich, those who support Uribe rejected the decision made by the Supreme Court and assure that the preventive detention measure is not necessary and affects the right to due process of the former president.

After this disagreement, the senator of the Democratic Center, Paloma Valenci,a put back on the table an idea that has haunted the party for years: a Constituent assembly to unify the Courts. This, according to the arguments of those who support this initiative, is to ensure impartiality and reform justice. This decision would also result in the elimination of the JEP, a body product of the Peace Agreement and that the Democratic Center has criticized since its inception.

Also read: ¿Qué pasará con el expresidente colombiano Álvaro Uribe?

Added to the message of the Democratic Center and the millions of followers of former President Álvaro Uribe, there was a message from the President of the Republic, Iván Duque. On his social networks, he published a video where he supports the former president. "It hurts as a Colombian that many of those who have lacerated the country with a barber shop defend themselves in freedom or are even guaranteed to never go to prison and that an exemplary public servant ... is not allowed to defend themselves in freedom with the presumption of innocence," he said in the video posted.

This message was taken as a challenge to the independence of the Courts, as it shows a political position of the country's president. For this reason, the opposition has come out to criticize the message, as they say that it not only goes against the decision of the CSJ but also attacks the JEP and the Peace Agreement, because according to it, restorative justice is changed for punitive penalties. After the message, the director for the Americas of Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, also criticized the president's position. "He cannot pretend that he speaks on the one hand" as president "and on the other" as a citizen", he said on Twitter.

Contrary to what the followers of the former president think, some political sectors in Colombia and the international community, such as the Human Rights Watch organization, have celebrated the decision as a sign of the political independence that the high court has with that result. What it is celebrated, regardless of whether the person affected is Álvaro Uribe or another political figure, is that the Court has made such a decision around a former president, demonstrating that no individual is above the law.

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