17 diciembre 2010

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Persecution or paranoia?

JUSTICEBeyond the immunity to which he is entitled, President Uribe has nothing to fear. Not so his praetorian guard.

Persecution or paranoia?.

Several political moves seem to indicate that there’s a sensible concern about the course of justice within former president Alvaro Uribe’s closest circle. The most clear symptom of this situation is the defense strategy that is underway.

The rise of a foundation called Causa Justa (Fair Cau
se) became known weeks ago. It aims at supporting the former president and his top aides’ legal defense. The first is under investigation at the Congress’ Accusations Commission, while the latter are being investigated by the Prosecutor General’s Office. But both cases are related to the illegal wiretappings that were made by the DAS (the state intelligence agency) during Uribe’s administration..

On the international front, last week concluded with a statement by Colombian Ambassador to the United States, Gabriel Silva, which confirms that he asked the State Department to recognize the former head of state’s "sovereign immunity".

Uribe was summoned to testify before a Washington court in the proceedings against Drummond, the multinational which has been accused of having financed paramilitary groups in Colombia. But the former president didn’t attend last November 22 hearing. Thus, the lawyers for Drummond’s victims announced that they will ask the Court to send him a more severe subpoena because, apparently, Uribe feels he’s "above the law".
However, the process that the Colombian Embassy chose implies that Uribe is right. Ambassador Silva explained that, in accordance with international conventions, he sent a letter on November 12 to the State Department in order to "ratify that Uribe is protected by a diplomatic immunity as a former head of state and that, therefore, he isn’t subject to third parties’ judicial orders".

An interesting precedent is former president Alfonso López Michelsen’s citation by a Miami Court, to testify in the trial of former president of Panama, Manuel Antonio Noriega. Lopez didn’t attend the subpoena and the request wasn’t successful. So, Uribe's appearance as a witness in proceedings outside the country is very unlikely.

But even more improbable is the popular thesis among Uribe’s fiercest critics who say that the International Criminal Court could investigate the 'false positives' scandals, the wiretappings or the human rights violations during his government. Nobody doubts that the wiretappings episode is one of the darkest chapters of recent democracy, but that won’t be enough for the ICC to see Uribe as a criminal.

It is known that this court handles emblematic cases against humanity which have taken place in failed states where national justice does not operate, like in some African countries such as Sudan and Liberia.

In Colombia, however, investigations against Uribe’s aides by the local justice show just the opposite: that justice in this country does work. And that’s precisely why some among the “uribism” are worried, particularly because they do not share the legal arguments which are being used by both the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor General.

Rodrigo Noguera, Principal at Bogotá’s Sergio Arboleda University and one of the founding managers of Causa Justa, detailed the defense strategy during an interview with Maria Isabel Rueda for El Tiempo newspaper. The foundation will get the money from the fees of lawyers who will defend Uribe’s aides in the courtrooms and will monitor the processes thoroughly.

Causa Justa also seeks to give a twist to the public debate, in order to revalue the author-behind-the-author thesis, which extends criminal responsibility along the chain of command. This theory supported the recent sentence against Colonel Alfonso Plazas (formerly Uribe’s official) over the missing people at the Justice Palace tragedy in 1985.

Uribe, given his immunity as a former head of state, is being investigated and tried by the Committee on Accusations of the House of Representatives. But in this case, he doesn’t have anything to worry about either. This Commission is composed of a “uribist” majority and in the corridors of Congress it is said that the investigation against the former president was opened with an intention to close it and thus take the wiretappings case as concluded.

The only gap is that if Alvaro Uribe is acquitted, a representative may appeal the ruling and the final decision would be at the hands of the House in it’s entirety. Before such a scenario, the whole “uribism” would have to work as a block: controlling 166 representatives is more complicated than controlling the 15 which conform the Accusations Commission. The possibility, though, is politically unthinkable.

This storm which has raged around the Uribe and the stalking of justice leaves two things rather clear: Uribe can live relaxed. But not so his closest collaborators.

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