Two cheers for the Senate Just answer the question
Jul 122005

On May 16th, funeral wreaths arrived at the offices of three Colombian journalists known for their critical stance toward the Uribe government. They came with cards inviting the recipients to their own burials. One of the three, Daniel Coronell, received a separate floral arrangement bearing the names of his wife and six-year-old daughter.

Coronell directs Noticias Uno, an independent news program on Colombia’s Canal Uno cable network, and writes a weekly column for Semana magazine. Canal Uno also broadcasts the documentary show Contravía, hosted by Hollman Morris, who also received a funeral arrangement on May 16th. Contravía had produced two programs about the February 2006 massacre in the San José de Apartadó peace community, presenting much evidence that pointed to possible military responsibility for the massacre (view the programs as an .avi file in Spanish).

Coronell had begun to receive threats at the end of April. “Some anonymous coward called to say, amid horrible namecalling, that he would kill my daughter, my wife and me,” Coronell wrote in his column. “Since then he has called again with information about where we lived, my daily schedule and my family’s routine.”

Coronell received several other threats via e-mail, and colleagues received e-mails threatening him as well. They came from somebody identifying himself as “Zarovich” (the name of a prince of imperial Russia), from the e-mail address ojrana2000@yahoo.com (the Ojrana was the name of the czar’s secret police).

With help from technicians, Coronell tracked the e-mails back to their source. They came from a computer in the Bogotá mansion of Carlos Náder Simmonds, a former congressman and large landowner from the paramilitary-dominated department of Córdoba in northern Colombia. The 59-year-old former politician – who, according to Coronell, “is such a Russian history enthusiast that his son is named Dmitri” – admitted that the threats came from his computer, but denied that he had sent them.

Náder has a shady past. In 1983, while a member of Congress from Córdoba, he was arrested and later found guilty by a New York court of trying to sell cocaine to a DEA agent. He spent at least three years in a U.S. prison. He was close enough to Medellín Cartel chief Pablo Escobar that, in 1990, recordings of phone conversations surfaced in which Náder calls Escobar “brother” and “compadre,” they discuss threats against César Gaviria (then a presidential candidate) and the daily newspaper El Tiempo, and Náder expresses support for the 1989 assassination of popular presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán (“better dead than a son of a b***h”).

This has not kept Náder from being close to those in power in Colombia, including President Álvaro Uribe himself. Journalist Fernando Garavito – who left Colombia in 2002 after publishing allegations that Uribe has ties to Colombia’s criminal underworld – calls Náder “one of the links between the country’s rulers, the corrupt politicians and the capos of the drug trade.”

Náder has sought to defend himself from charges of threatening Coronell by pointing out that as many as 40 people, including President Uribe’s two sons, have used his computer while visiting his house in the recent past.

While neither Coronell nor Colombia’s Attorney-General, Luis Camilo Osorio, think that Tomás and Jerónimo Uribe – both teenagers – are suspects, the episode revealed uncomfortable details about Náder’s friendship with President Uribe. The two men have known each other since the mid-1970s, when both were young Liberal Party activists. “He is very nice, fun to be with, he has always been kind to me, with my sons, my sons have been fond of him,” President Uribe told Colombia’s RCN radio network in June.

According to Náder himself, President Uribe even celebrated the 2004 New Year together with the convicted former narco-trafficker in the town of Ríonegro, just outside Medellín. “It is difficult to understand why the President shares his family with someone who served a prison term in the United States for cocaine trafficking, without this being seen as a moral impediment,” notes El Espectador columnist Ramiro Bejarano.

The Lord of the Shadows, a very unauthorized biography of Uribe that Fernando Garavito co-wrote in 2002 with Newsweek reporter Joseph Contreras, points out that Náder cannot enter the United States because of his past drug conviction. “But his wife, Ana Trejos, who is a gringa, hosts the candidate [Uribe] and his family during their visits to Miami, and Náder himself is their host in a luxurious apartment that he bought in Madrid, thanks to the illegal multi-million-dollar commissions he gained by skimming funds from the construction of the Urrá dam [in Tierrralta, Córdoba, the same municipality as Santa Fé de Ralito, where paramilitary leaders are currently negotiating with the Colombian government]. Náder is a man of the dark side, who knows many episodes of Uribe’s past and who guards them closely in his memory to use them when he believes them to be useful for his own interests.”

Náder continues to insist that he did not send the threatening e-mails to Coronell. He called the journalist and told him “I have nothing against you, you seem all right to me, I don’t like your anti-Uribism but I respect it.” El Tiempo columnist (and brother of the former president) Daniel Samper is skeptical. “I had a chance to examine a list of the e-mails, and this argument doesn’t hold up, unless a battalion sleeps in Náder’s house. Some of the e-mails were sent at hours that seem too early for entertaining friends at home: 5:08 AM, 6:29 AM, 9:23 on a Sunday.”

Whether the former politician sent the messages or not, says Coronell, “Náder is not the only responsible party, but a link in a chain of threats against people who criticize the government.” If Coronell is correct, the atmosphere is likely to grow still more threatening in the runup to the May 2006 elections.

Álvaro Uribe is probably the big loser from this Náder episode, as his critics in Colombia get more mileage out of the argument that the President should be known by the company he keeps.

“I get the impression, not just from the Náder example but from those of several of the government’s ministers, functionaries, partners and interlocutors, that President Uribe enjoys being in poor company,” wrote Semana columnist Antonio Caballero, a leading Uribe critic. Added El Espectador columnist Felipe Zuleta, “Though the President gets angry when forced to answer about his past and his dangerous friendships, the point is that indications of mafia infiltration of the government’s highest levels matter more than rude words and threats.”

3 Responses to “President Uribe’s shady friend”

  1. Alvaro Says:

    Uribe might be in poor company, but that doesnt necessarily mean that he is equal to that company in bad respects, as you and others seem to imply, while you minimize the efforts made by the Uribe administration to protect journalists even in the midst of a very complicated civil war.

  2. Randy Paul Says:

    Uribe doesn’t regard it as a civil war nor even as a conflict.

    As for the company Uribe keeps not making him equal to that company, at minimum it shows awful judgment for him to consort with convicted narcotraffickers. To me it reeks of arrogance.

  3. orchid Says:

    I agree that Alvaro Uribe definitively has some bad friends, not to mention colleagues and cabinet members. But come on, we’re not talking about a well-developed western country, we’re talking about a poor and under developed war plagued country, with debt equalling 52% of GDP. A country where the majority are illiterate and lives for less than $ 1 a day. Come on…… even the PM of Italy has been accused of corruption…. Not to mention the neighbouring countries….like Brazil now recently. How can anyone expect politicians to be totally clean, in a country where terrorist-groups control almost 50% of the country? Isn’t that a lot to expect in a country where the biggest cash flow into the country is illegal drug money? Let’s be realistic…what can we really expect, let’s take a look at our own country….not all that impressive.

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