The distance between Colombia's former President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) and current President Juan Manuel Santos is now glaring and raises a large question about the future behavior of the two most powerful men in the political life of the South American country. Legal investigations into a series of events linked to the creation of the feared paramilitary commandos, responsible for thousands of deaths, and the fraudulent constitutional amendment that allowed Uribe's re-election in 2006 increasingly taint the former president. However, Uribe continues to receive strong poll numbers among the electorate.
Convinced that Santos is behind the investigations--in an effort to destroy him politically to remove his major competitor in the contest to lead to right--Uribe has stepped up his criticisms of the president until, in late April, he directly called Santos a traitor. Santos, who wants to inherit Uribe's electoral support and have all the political capital of the governing Partido Social de Unidad Nacional (known as the Partido de la U), publically laments his predecessor's outbursts and, despite the attacks, continues praising him.
On April 11, the Sala Penal of the Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) sentenced Javier Caceres Leal, former president of Congress during the last two years of Uribe's second term, to nine years in prison, on charges of "association to promote illegal armed groups" (paramilitary organizations).
It is noteworthy that the evidence that led to Caceres Leal's trial was provided by three former leaders of the umbrella Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), the illegal groups that traffic drugs, serve as private armies, participate covertly in regular armed forces operations, and finance the electoral campaigns of many politicians in rural areas where they operate.
The three ultraright former commando leaders said that they had met with Caceres Leal on several occasions and had paid his campaign expenses when he was re-elected to the Senate for a third term in 2010. Two of the former paramilitary leaders--Salvatore Mancuso and Rodrigo Tovar Pupo--testified before the judges from the US, where they were extradited. Caceres Leal's conviction showed continuity in the relations between Congress and the AUC throughout Uribe's two terms in office.
Three other former presidents of the legislature are serving jail terms for the same crime (NotiSur, May 16, 2008): Miguel Pinedo (nine years); Luis Humberto Gomez (nine years); and Mario de Jesus Uribe, a cousin of the former president (six years, five months).
Uribe's actions in paramilitary demobilization subject of investigation
Two weeks later, on April 25, the investigators turned their attention directly to Uribe. A special congressional commission warned that it might initiate legal action against Uribe for including a drug-trafficking leader (Juan Carlos Sierra) in a group of paramilitaries that, between 2003 and 2006, made an agreement with the government to demobilize (NotiSur, May 20, 2011). Sierra tried to benefit from a law initiated by the former president to encourage the ultraright commandos to disarm. The law guaranteed that paramilitary leaders would receive sentences of no more than eight years in prison and that mid- and lower-level paramilitaries would be released.
The evidence sent by the Fiscali Fiscalia a General de la Nacion to the congressional Comision de Acusacion once again included testimony of a former AUC leader, who said that Sierra never belonged to the organization but "paid a lot of money to let him be passed as one of us." The most serious is that, according to the statement the Fiscalia accepted as true, the person who received the money was "someone very high up" in the Alto Comisionado para la Paz, Luis Carlos Restrepo, who directed the demobilization effort and who only answered to Uribe.
The former paramilitary leader went much further …