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| 11/26/2010 12:00:00 AM

Farewell to the truth

María del Pilar Hurtado, former director at the DAS, was granted with a political asylum by Panama, which leaves hardly any chances of knowing who was behind the wiretapping conspiracy. Demanding her in extradition, as announced by the General Prosecutor’s Office, is absurd.

Maria del Pilar Hurtado’s name has been repeated all along the investigation about illegal spying made by the Security Administration Department (DAS) against judges of the Supreme Court, members of the opposition and journalists. Those who until recently were her closest aides —two of whom have already confessed and collaborated with justice—, have identified Hurtado as the person who ordered some of these actions. They claimed that she knew about every recording, and that she was the one who kept the Presidential Palace informed.

Hurtado was director at the DAS between September 2007 and October 2008. She began being investigated almost two years ago by Prosecutor General Guillermo Mendoza Diago. Even though the revelations about the plot against the Supreme Court have been abundant, she hasn’t been charged nor arrested. However, a legal decision of such nature was expected at any time, and that’s why Hurtado decided to take advantage of a trip to Panama and apply for a political asylum which was granted almost immediately by President Ricardo Martinelli’s government.

Both her asylum request and its acceptance by Panama have been heavily criticized. It’s clear, for the Colombian justice, that officials at the DAS were acting outside the law’s boundaries, and that Hurtado isn’t a political victim: precisely, what is being investigated is the persecution, intimidation and discrediting campaign that this organ did against social sectors that were opposed to Alvaro Uribe’s government.

However, what the judges, politicians or journalists think in Colombia might be quite different to what president Martinelli does. Three elements benefited Maria del Pilar. The first one is that she didn’t have an arrest warrant until last Friday. The second is the alleged imminent threat on her life, which despite being believable, isn’t very real. The third element was, however, her major advantage: she chose to seek shelter in a country whose president admires former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Vélez and holds him in high regard.

It is impossible that the President of Panama believes that Juan Manuel Santos’s government is plotting a political persecution against Uribe’s officials. Nor is it likely that Martinelli thinks about Hurtado as the strategist behind every atrocity committed by the DAS, or that her life is in danger. In Panama, wiretappings made by an intelligence agency aren’t seen as a heinous crime. Moreover, the former DAS director is perceived from the distance rather as a naive piece in a high-level political chess and in the crash between Uribe’s government and justice. For Martinelli, Uribe is both a friend and a great President and in no way a dangerous dictator or tormenter. Thus, what the Panamanian government wants is to give him and his people a hand with a “kind” asylum.

The injustice, though, lies in the fact that, at the highest national and international spheres, there is some sort of solidarity with senior officials who give these orders, considering very often –and mistakenly-, that theirs are mild sins rather than mortal ones. However, there’s a lot of indifference around the middle and lower ranked, who obey the orders, and who often end up in jail.

But despite these pragmatic considerations, Martinelli’s decision has very serious political and judicial consequences in Colombia, which can even have international effects. A first perverse symptom of Maria del Pilar’s asylum is that it will be very difficult now for justice to establish who gave the order to pursue the court, the journalists and the members of the political opposition: Hurtado was the primary source for the country to know how much did the presidential palace know on the DAS plot. A second serious consequence is that this episode sets a bad example, as Interior Minister Germán Vargas Lleras said. Especially when you consider that some among Uribe's closest circle are already under investigation at the Prosecutor General’s Office and could see a similar resource for themselves, which would further obstruct justice. And third, an international asylum legitimates the idea that Colombian justice is biased and is politically used by a specific sector which, in this case, isn’t true.

Asylum is used in political cases and not when people who have committed crimes want to evade justice. This is why, for example, Costa Rica refused to give refuge to former Senator Mario Uribe two years ago. Granting asylum is an autonomous and discretional decision made by governments, and Colombia has a long and solid tradition of respect towards this international protection figure. Hence, a diplomatic complaint isn’t expected. The Peruvian APRA leader Victor Hugo Haya de la Torre lived for five years at the Colombian Embassy in Lima. In the 1990’s, Alan García took refuge in Bogotá when Alberto Fujimori tried to arrest and judge him. And more recently, businessman Pedro Carmona, accused of conspiring against Hugo Chavez, also sought refuge in Colombia. There are also cases in which other countries have granted asylum to Colombians and here the government has been friendly despite not sharing these decisions made abroad. In 1998, for example, Costa Rica gave asylum to Alvaro Leyva Durán, who was under an illicit enrichment investigation.

The paradox is that Attorney General Mendoza Diago intended to decide Hurtado’s situation next week, precisely when her evasion was finished. If he decides to charge her, he says she will be demanded with an extradition request, which is itself a contradiction. "Colombia traditionally respects asylum. An extradition request is disrespectful of the very essence of that figure", said former Foreign Minister Augusto Ramirez Ocampo. If the country grants the asylum, it is also automatically giving the person a political status. Is very unlikely that this government gets itself into such an enormous diplomatic battle.

That's why Maria del Pilar Hurtado’s move is now the greatest obstacle to finally know the truth about the conspiracy against the Supreme Court and a barrier to know those who were behind the worst spying episode in Colombian history.
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