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Judge Julio César Valencia.

Remember the “para-politics” scandal? (There are many in Colombia who hope that you don’t.) It took a very odd turn last week, as President Álvaro Uribe announced that he is pressing charges of slander against César Julio Valencia, who until two weeks ago was the chief justice of Colombia’s Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court is charged with investigating and prosecuting the more than 40 members of Colombia’s Congress alleged to have supported paramilitary groups. Among these legislators is President Uribe’s cousin, Mario Uribe.

In September, Álvaro Uribe called Judge Valencia on his cellphone. The president was enraged because a low-ranking imprisoned paramilitary leader nicknamed “Tasmania” had written him a letter alleging that Supreme Court investigators had sought to get him to give false evidence implicating Uribe.

Earlier this month, in an interview with the Colombian newspaper El Espectador, Valencia said that during the same conversation, President Uribe also asked about his cousin’s case.

President Uribe vehemently denies that he inquired about his cousin. Judge Valencia, whose term just ended, refuses to retract what he said. So President Uribe is now pressing charges against the outgoing supreme-court chief justice. The charge is slander, which is a criminal offense in Colombia.

A statement from the Polo Democrático, Colombia’s leftist opposition party, explains why Valencia will have little opportunity to defend himself, and why the truth about that telephone conversation is unlikely to emerge.

The only possible witnesses in the procedures are three high employees of the Uribe government. The trial will begin with the Prosecution Commission of the House of Representatives, an entity controlled entirely by the political friends of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, the very same people who systematically refuse to comply with the law when he is the accused and who constitute part of the bureaucratic apparatus that is also controlled by the head of state. Will there be justice for the President of the Supreme Court if the accuser, the witnesses, and the judges all share the same interests and belong to the same para-politician group under investigation by that Supreme Court?

Is President Uribe so distressed by this alleged smear on his record that he is willing to clash at such a high level with the judicial branch? Or is this an effort to distract and even to intimidate the Supreme Court, which has been taking seriously its duty to investigate and punish the dozens of Uribe supporters facing “para-politics” accusations?

6 Responses to “President v. Chief Justice”

  1. jcg Says:

    The “parapolitical” scandal may be temporarily assuming a secondary or even tertiary spot as far as the headlines go…but the entire issue is hardly out of public sight…or consciousness, for that matter.

    I don’t really know what the outcome of this particular case may be. My personal opinions would tend to side against Uribe and with the Court, surely…but there’s always a chance he may be right once in a while, at least until proven otherwise.

    Especially In these circumstances, where it all comes down to “mi palabra contra la suya”, my word against yours…unless there’s a tape involved, which would conclusively resolve everything.

    Regarding the Prosecution Commission, the structural problem goes far beyond Uribe himself. It’s essentially a political body, even though it has judicial responsibilities.

    If any President of Colombia has a majority coalition backing him, such a body will have the same limitations and will tend to favor its benefactor…at least as long as the Comission itself or Colombian politics in general don’t take a radical turn.

    The earlier change is probably the “least unlikely” of the two, if you ask me, but still not too easy to see in the near future.

    As for how much of an intimidation or distraction for the Court all of this is…Uribe’s and the Court’s later moves will probably allow us to measure that a bit more, I hope.

  2. Jaime Bustos Says:

    jcg, what comes through the news media is only part of what really happens and mostly disguised occurrences in collusion with the running power, when not utterly made up stories . One has to learn to have a sense of smell in order to sort out the events. Otherwise you can live in doubt for good.

  3. jcg Says:

    Jaime Bustos:

    So, do you automatically assume that the opposite position has to be correct all of the time?

    Sorry, but I prefer to be accused of “living in doubt”…than possibly (or actually, probably, because it’s more than likely) finding out, years after the fact, that I was being unfair and biased in some cases, just because of my “sense of smell”.

  4. Jaime Bustos Says:

    opposite position? hmmmmmm, that’s a fault in your thoughts

  5. jcg Says:

    That’s just one way to describe it, you know that wasn’t the point.

  6. Plan Colombia and Beyond » Para-Politics on the ropes Says:

    [...] heated up again in January, when President Uribe launched a slander lawsuit against the outgoing Supreme Court chief, Julio César Valencia. The judge had told [...]

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