By María Fernanda Barreto – Mar 12, 2021
The recent decision of the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office to request the exclusion of Álvaro Uribe Vélez from the investigations brings him once again closer to the total impunity to which he is accustomed.
But this impunity is not his privilege, it is a tradition imposed in the supposed Colombian democracy, where the greatest crimes go unpunished, as long as they are committed by the political class or their bosses in the north.
Unpunished are, for example, those who ordered the massacre of the banana plantations in 1928, including, of course, the United Fruit Company, today Chiquita Brands International, which never lost its habit of murdering and even financing coups d’état.
In 1929, Colombian leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan denounced this before Congress and in a famous speech said: “Painfully we know that in this country the government has the homicidal shrapnel for the sons of the fatherland and the trembling knee to the ground before American gold.” His words, almost 100 years ago, laid bare the continent’s most violent and transnationalized oligarchy. Nineteen years later, Gaitán himself was assassinated and, not surprisingly, his murder remains unpunished.
Public legitimization of impunity
But impunity in Colombia is not covered with a finger, but with the media conglomerates. According to the latest publication of Forbes Magazine’s ranking of the richest people, the owners, or majority partners, of the country’s most traditional and widespread media are also the four richest people in Colombia. An important coincidence is that at least the two richest derive their wealth from large banks and financial companies.
In a country that produces the largest amount of cocaine in the world, there is no way of knowing what the real impact of this lucrative business is for the national economy, but logic suggests that it must be a lot and that a large part of this money must be laundered within Colombia, which requires banks and businesses traditionally used for money laundering, such as large construction companies.
By pure coincidence, both are the businesses that have made Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo the richest man in Colombia and one of the richest in the world. His family bought El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest and most traditional newspaper, in 2012.
The second man on the Forbes list is Jaime Gilinski, who surprisingly has also amassed his fortune in the financial sector. Recently the Gilinski family acquired the important political magazine Semana and celebrated doing so with an extensive internal purge of journalists and establishing an editorial line totally allied with the current government.
Number three is Santo Domingo, who owns no less than El Espectador, Caracol Televisión and Blu Radio. Ardila Lülle, fourth on the Forbes list, owns RCN, NTN24, and WIN, among many other media outlets.
The same national phenomenon is replicated at the regional level, where the largest media outlets are owned by the families that economically and politically control the regions.
This overview makes it possible to understand many things about how Colombian public opinion is manipulated. It also explains why, for example, none of these media outlets covers the popular struggles, why they attack the Bolivarian Revolution and, in this case, why they support the oligarchy’s impunity in the eyes of public opinion, why they fight to defend the subordination of Colombian politics to the designs of Washington, and why they create news scandals that rise and fall like wildfire, deliberately affecting the long-term memory of their audiences.
The case against Uribe Vélez
In contrast to other countries where lawfare against progressive Latin American governments has led to the overthrow of presidencies thanks to rigged judicial processes, in Colombia it is unthinkable to try a former president, even when, as in the case of Álvaro Uribe Vélez, a large part of his political entourage has already been arrested for links to drug trafficking, paramilitarism and human rights violations.
This also contrasts with the Colombian state’s “effectiveness” in opening investigations and judicial processes against social leaders.
The crime for which Álvaro Uribe Vélez is currently being investigated stems from a complaint made by himself in 2014 against Senator Iván Cepeda, accusing him of manipulating witnesses and offering benefits to imprisoned paramilitaries so that they would link him to these armed groups since Cepeda had presented before Congress the recording of a witness who claimed that the paramilitary group to which he belonged had been formed on a farm owned by the Uribe family.
Four years later, when Uribe began to make the national and international political class uncomfortable, the Colombian Court turned the case around, stating that during the investigation no evidence was found linking Senator Cepeda to these practices, but that the original plaintiff was, and thus initiated proceedings for the crimes of bribery and procedural fraud against the then-Senator Uribe, who was even ordered to remain in his immense estate.
Faced with this situation, the senator accustomed to being called President and to acting with impunity decided to resign from his post in the Senate to get off the Court’s radar and move to the Attorney General’s Office, an institution completely subordinate to the country’s presidency, where, as was to be expected, the case has been developing in his favor to the point of requesting it be dropped altogether.
But Uribe is also a hot potato for the United States because his links to drug trafficking and his obvious involvement in terrible human rights violations are causing a stir in some sectors of US politics.
In turn, this man, who has been directly or indirectly in power for the last 20 years in Colombia, has rendered great services to the US giant, for example, by granting more than impunity, immunity, in an agreement signed with the United States in 2003 so that US troops could operate in Colombia without any crimes against humanity being investigated or brought before the International Criminal Court unless the US government itself authorized it.
This huge concession of Colombian sovereignty has been of great advantage to the United States in turning the country into a military enclave from which to ensure the dispossession of Colombia and the control of drug trafficking while attacking Venezuela and relaunching its imperialist plans for the whole region.
Realistically, even if this case against Uribe is successful and he is finally convicted of the crimes he is accused of, his greatest crimes will continue to go unpunished.
For example, according to a recent publication by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, in the period between 2002 and 2008 (between his first and second presidencies), approximately 6,402 people were killed to be presented as combat casualties (“false positives”) throughout the country by the Colombian security forces.
To this should be added the massacres committed during his time as governor of Antioquia and in the Nariño Palace (official residence of the President of the Republic) the crimes against humanity committed by his government in Operation Orion in Comuna 13 in Medellín, the bombing of Ecuador (Operation Fénix), the paramilitary invasion of Venezuela and many other serious crimes that swell Uribe Vélez’s record and have ended up undermining his once-great popularity and are about to bury politically those who follow his doctrine.
Nevertheless, breaking with this impunity, making the man who possesses such patronage feel vulnerable, would be a good step for Colombia and would probably bring closer the possibility of legally proving his links to the paramilitary project he helped to build and then legalize.
The genocide against the Patriotic Union in the 1980s remains unpunished, as does the recent genocide of social leaders and ex-combatants of the FARC-EP, the countless massacres committed in the last five decades by the military and paramilitaries, the massacre of five children in Cali last year, the bombings of alleged camps where children and adolescents were being held last year in Caquetá and last week in Guaviare, etcetera.
As long as impunity for crimes against the people remains the norm in Colombia, the attempt at popular pacification through murder, demobilization and fear will continue to advance, but peace will be ever more distant.
Featured image: (Foto: Juan Barreto / AFP)
Maria Fernanda Barreto
Colombo-Venezuelan writer and activist. Contributor writer for Correos del Alba, Mision Verdad and La Haine, among others.
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