Over 70 Colombian Politicians Linked to Death Squads and Drugs Trafficking

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Recent days have seen further investigations opened by the Colombian Supreme Court into several members of Congress for their alleged links to illegal paramilitary drugs trafficking gangs. The new cases bring to over 70 the number of Colombian Congressmen now being investigated virtually all of them allies of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Uribe too is facing allegations that his campaign received financing from drugs barons and paramilitary commanders.

The scandal, which has become known as 'parapolitica' in Colombia, has seen numerous members of Congress resign their seats in order that they can be investigated by the Attorney General's office, which is considered more lenient, rather than by the Supreme Court which is tasked only with proceedings against sitting Congressmen. The most recent to resign, on May 26th, was Senator Jorge Visbal Martelo, a close Uribe ally accused of using the paramilitaries to intimidate voters into supporting him. The Senator was a former leader of the Colombian Ranchers Association, FEDEGAN, and is said to have been close to Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias 'Jorge 40', one of Colombia's most important paramilitary commanders and drugs traffickers.

On May 13th the Supreme Court announced investigations into both Visbal Martelo and his colleague Senator Marco Alirio Cortes Torres both members of the pro-Uribe 'Party of the U' which has seen numerous of its members indicted for links to the paramilitaries. In what opposition leaders described as a shameless attempt to protect criminals, party leader Luis Carlos Restrepo earlier this month suggested that a law should be introduced granting members of Congress parliamentary immunity. Restrepo said that under his proposal politicians would only be arrested or judicially processed if Congress, where Uribe supporters enjoy a majority, gave its consent.

Earlier in the month the Supreme Court called for the arrest of another 'Party of the U' member, Senator Zulema Jattin, herself the daughter of a former politician with ties to drugs traffickers, whilst in April Senator Juan Carlos Martinez was arrested for working with paramilitaries to force people to vote for him. The court also announced that they had a video showing the Senator attending a family reunion with drugs baron Olmes Duran.

As well as the politicians implicated in the 'parapolitica' scandal several senior officials, including President Uribe's former campaign manager who later took over the DAS secret police and various Army commanders have been accused of links to the death squads. The response of President Uribe to the investigations has been to accuse the courts of 'political bias' and of being 'motivated by hatred', accusations that have been condemned internationally as putting the independence of the judiciary at risk. See also More Politicians Linked to Paramilitaries in Colombia

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