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Colombia: The dark side of Alvaro Uribe

So far, retirement has been a little rocky for the hugely popular former president.

Medellin Colombia
A Colombian policeman patrols along Comuna 13 neighborhood on July 11, 2009, in Medellin, Colombia. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images)

BOGOTA, Colombia — After Alvaro Uribe accepted a job at Georgetown University, a Colombian humorist suggested the former president should teach a course on wiretapping.

On his first day of class last week, Uribe was met by protesters who held up banners calling him a mass murderer.

Back in Colombia, meanwhile, nearly a dozen of Uribe’s former advisers are under investigation for abuse of power and could end up in prison.

So far, retirement has been a little rocky for Uribe. He is considered a hero by many Colombians for improving security in this war-ravaged nation. But since he stepped down on Aug. 7, more light is being shed on the dark side of his eight years in office.

“His legacy will still be positive due to the security gains,” said Michael Shifter, a Georgetown professor and president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank. “But his record was sullied by these scandals. These were Uribe’s people and he bears political responsibility for what happened.”

Uribe ran into trouble, analysts say, because he became increasingly power-hungry and paranoid.

First elected in 2002, Uribe quickly sought congressional approval of a constitutional amendment so he could stand for re-election in 2006. At the time, the Colombian constitution banned presidents from serving more than one four-year term.

The amendment was approved but accusations emerged that government ministers secured the support of key lawmakers by offering them jobs and other benefits. Two legislators were convicted of receiving payoffs and Uribe’s former interior and social protection ministers are now under investigation for bribery.

Even more serious is a scandal known as DAS-gate, which, according to Shifter, “makes Watergate look like child’s play.”

The DAS is the Colombian equivalent of the FBI and during the Uribe administration its agents illegally monitored the telephone calls and actions of opposition politicians, human rights workers, journalists and even Supreme Court justices.

At the time, dozens of pro-Uribe lawmakers were being investigated by the Supreme Court for their financial and political links to right-wing death squads. They included Senator Mario Uribe, the president’s cousin, who later resigned and went to prison. Experts say the president’s men wanted to embarrass and discredit the court judges.

“Uribe believed the Supreme Court was out to get him,” said Alfonso Cuellar, an editor at Semana news magazine, which broke the DAS-gate story. “That was not true but that’s what Uribe believed because he was surrounded by a small group of people who fed him rumors.”

This month, new details emerged about the infiltration campaign from a DAS agent cooperating with the investigators. Alba Florez, who has been dubbed by the Colombian media as the DAS Mata Hari, said she persuaded the bodyguards and personal assistants of Supreme Court judges to spy on their bosses.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/colombia/100914/uribe-corruption-scandals