Former president Uribe under house detention as opposition senator reports threats

Colombia’s former president Álvaro Uribe will remain under house detention after the Supreme Court rejected his legal team’s request that he be released. Uribe has been confined to his ranch in the northern Córdoba region since 4 August, when the Court ordered his detention while it investigates accusations of bribery and attempts to pervert the course of justice. The ruling comes as the progressive senator Iván Cepeda, who is at the centre of the case against Uribe, said he had received death threats and been followed since Uribe’s detention.

In a further development, on 18 August Uribe resigned his seat in the Colombian senate, where he represents the governing Democratic Centre party, in an apparent attempt to remove the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction in the investigation against him. This could see the investigation transferred to the Attorney General’s office, where he may hope for a more favourable outcome.   

Uribe has long been accused of close relations with right-wing paramilitary groups behind some of the worst human rights atrocities committed during the armed conflict. Cepeda has campaigned and worked rigorously to expose any alleged links and in 2012 urged the Senate to investigate the former president.

In 2014, Uribe accused Cepeda of having bribed paramilitary witnesses to provide false information in order to incriminate him. However, in 2018, the Supreme Court ruled Cepeda had no case to answer. The same court subsequently found evidence that Uribe had asked paramilitary witnesses to alter their testimony to build a criminal case against Cepeda. It is alleged that he offered to help them secure reduced sentences in return.

Although the current investigation focuses specifically on alleged attempts by Uribe to manipulate witnesses, human rights groups and victims of paramilitary violence have expressed hope that the case will uncover the extent to which Uribe and other powerful figures were involved with paramilitary groups.

While governor of Antioquia during the 1990s, Uribe is alleged to have collaborated with the Bloque Metro, a paramilitary organisation which committed massacres and killings of civilians. In a video interview recorded in 2013, convicted paramilitary commander Juan Guillermo Monsalve said that the Bloque Metro was founded at the Uribe family ranch of Guacharacas. Uribe’s brother Santiago is currently awaiting trial on charges that he founded a paramilitary group known as The 12 Apostles.  

Uribe served as president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010, with his administrations marked by massive human rights violations. In the so-called False Positives scandal, the army murdered up to 10,000 young and poor civilians who were lured with fake job offers before being killed and presented as guerrilla combatants. The case is one of the main investigations currently being carried out by the 2016 peace agreement’s truth and justice component, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which aims to prosecute those responsible for serious human rights violations committed during the conflict.