Friday links A justice system nearing burnout
Aug 122008

Here is Colombian President Álvaro Uribe yesterday, in another attack on judicial investigators of the “para-politics” scandal, as well as opposition members of Congress:

A senator [Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez, a former Senate president now under investigation for paramilitary links] has told me that she has felt… that sectors of justice [investigating the scandal] have wanted to ask her for money. Why didn’t she denounce it? She said that they did it so subtly that it would have been difficult to denounce, and that she was afraid to do it. And we also know of interferences… interferences of justice. It is important that the justice system investigate what manipulations of witnesses have been carried out by [opposition legislators] Sen. Piedad Córdoba or Sen. Gustavo Petro. It is very important to do that.

The accusations against Córdoba and Petro have no evidence to back them up, and Sen. Gutiérrez’s accusations, based on a recorded conversation with an investigator from the prosecutor-general’s office [Fiscalía], are troubling – the investigator has since
been taken off of the “parapolitics” investigations – but vague and hardly indicative of a pattern.

President Uribe’s accusations, obviously intended to impugn the character of Supreme Court investigators and weaken the political opposition, may play well in Colombia’s internal political battles and in Colombian public opinion. Viewed from outside, however, the President is sending a terrible message.

A foreign government – or investor, or journalist, or anyone constantly evaluating their country’s relations with Colombia – would feel most confident if President Uribe’s reaction to the “para-politics” revelations were something like: “The idea that top officials could have been supporting mass-murdering drug-trafficking terrorists is shocking. Let’s give the judicial system the tools and support it needs to investigate this, punish it, and make sure that it never happens again. Colombia has to be a country of laws, and we can no longer be tolerant of those who benefit from corruption, organized crime, and even crimes against humanity. Let’s let the justice system do its job.”

Sounds reasonable, right? We should be disturbed, then, that President Uribe’s reactions have so often been the exact opposite. This is the latest in a string of verbal attacks – some of the most high-profile of which have turned out to be baseless – seeking to undermine the credibility of Colombian judicial investigators. The Supreme Court’s chief “para-politics” investigator, judge Iván Velásquez, told El Tiempo that the constant pressure has him thinking about submitting his resignation.

The President is making the “para-politics” investigators’ work more difficult. Viewed from outside Colombia, this behavior sends up very strong warning signals.

11 Responses to “The best defense is to be offensive”

  1. Jaime Bustos Says:

    It’s not the first warning signal, and not the only one by the way. Mr. Uribe has been throwing a fit for every one of his “good boys” justice has called to answer, or even when he himself or one of his relatives has been touched by the paranarco scandal.

    That so many “warnings” have been turned a blind eye on, show the conspicuous complicity of foreign countries, supporting a fellow that in exchange for being let get his way, continues to give away colombia resources and dignity.

  2. lfm Says:

    This is already standard operating procedure from this Administration. Make the most incendiary accusations without backing them with evidence and then drop the matter just like that. A couple of days before the rescue of Ingrid Bethancourt, Uribe was accusing that the Supreme Court was infiltrated by the FARC and the paramilitaries and even lodged a formal complaint in the House of Representatives. Now it´s all forgotten. No evidence was offered, no follow up, nothing. Just the bluster to muddy the waters. This has impeachable offense written all over it but, of course, if you want to impeach a President, you need first to have a Congress and we don´t seem to have one.

  3. Chris Says:

    Yes, Uribe should present some concrete evidence else he looks like he’s playing some silly little game with the rest of the politicians.

    However, this act might be directed to the common Colombian, who’ll be apt to consume this more readilly than those that pay particular attention to the whole thing and have specific interests in the outcome of this all.

    BTW, if you want to impeach the President… you’ll need the overwhelming approval of the people.

  4. Jaime Bustos Says:

    It looks as if it was another “false positive”, indeed:

  5. Colombia » Lozano denies wrongdoing in probe Says:

    [...] The best defense is to be offensivePresident Uribe’s accusations, obviously intended to impugn the character of Supreme Court investigators and weaken the political opposition, may play well in Colombia’s internal political battles and in Colombian public opinion. … [...]

  6. lfm Says:

    Chris: Sadly you´re right. You need overwhelming approval of the people. That said, the popular support for Clinton´s impeachment was tepid at best. Truth is, you shouldn´t need such popular approval. If a President breaks the law, or undermines the institutions he´s supposed to protect, he should be impeached, period. The fact that he is popular should not be an impediment. Quite the opposite, it should be even more serious for a President to abuse the trust the people have in him in that case. That is an essential principle if you want to have rule of law.

    … and then I woke up.

  7. El Común Says:

    Does anyone know if Colombian law requires that the Supreme Court or Fiscalia inform a member of congress that they are being investigated? This seems to be the primary focus of Nancy Gutierrez’ complaint. El Tiempo has been typically vague about providing background details.

  8. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Comun, from what I understand they were doing a preliminary investigation in the course of which the investigated needs not be notified. Besides, what I understand from reading the papers, is that this lady was being probed on paramilitarism since a couple of months ago.

  9. jcg Says:

    I wouldn’t go so far as to imply that, say, the truth is always the exact opposite of whatever Uribe says (because that’s not the case, to be honest)…but it’s true that it’s no surprise to see him either lying outright or rushing to conclusions he may not be able to prove later on, especially when he’s blasting against either his critics, opponents or investigators.

    Another sign of a shameful behavior that undermines Colombia’s judicial institutions and the work they do, despite their weaknesses and imperfections, and which may contribute to placing these institutions and their members in greater danger.

    That isn’t new either. But what one wonders is if Uribe will ever go “all the way” and try to become a dictator or president for life, like some theorize and predict.

  10. Colombia » Uribe: One official used Red Cross symbols in Betancourt rescue Says:

    [...] The best defense is to be offensivePresident Uribe’s accusations, obviously intended to impugn the character of Supreme Court investigators and weaken the political opposition, may play well in Colombia’s internal political battles and in Colombian public opinion. … [...]

  11. Will Says:

    Adam, Jaime, JCG or LFM,

    Below is a message from supporters of former Senator Luis Eduardo Vives Lacouture who was sentenced to 7 years of prison for his links to paramilitarism (he has not been convicted of directly harming anyone, yet his sentence is comparable to the sentences being given to actual killers, hmmm)…Beyond the Gutierrez story do you believe there is anything to these claims of the Court manipulating/influencing witnesses? Is it simply Uribe engaging in distortions or is there any substance to these claims?



    p.s. Here is Luis’ website where he lays out his case:

    LES DAREMOS UN BREVE RESUMEN EN EL QUE DEMOSTRAMOS QUE LA CORTE ESTA ACTUANDO DE FORMA POLITICA Y NO JURIDICA. SU UNICO INTERES ES ACABAR CON URIBE, Y MONTARLE PROCESO A PERSONAS INOCENTES.(pero no saben que detras de estas personas esta una familia, algun dia Dios hara justicia en los cielos, asi que los magistrados no se deben creer intocables)
    1. audio de la senadora Nancy P. Gutierrez con un magistrado en el que dice que para la corte no valen los testigos que hablan bien y que muchos han sido montados por los magistrados y que las retractaciones no valen
    2.EL PRESIDENTE pide que investiguen si se estan manipulando testigos y si la corte esta pidiendo plata a los congresistas
    3. Según el abogado de Rubén Darío Quintero, estarían pagándole dinero a un testigo para que declarara en contra del senador, por el delito de la parapolítica.
    4. Una testigo dice que EL MAGISTRADO AUXILIAR VELASQUEZ fue a Yopal y le ofreció beneficios por hablar encontra de politicos.
    5. expulsados dos magistrados auxiliares de la corte porque dijeron que no habia pruebas suficientes en varios procesos

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