Did Colombia’s Ex-President Uribe Operate Criminal Regime?

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Authorities have arrested the brother of Álvaro Uribe for allegedly forming a paramilitary organization during the 1990s, raising new questions about how deeply organized crime penetrated the administration of Colombia’s former president.

On February 29, police in Medellín arrested Santiago Uribe on charges of establishing a right-wing paramilitary death squad known as the Twelve Apostles, reported the BBC. The Twelve Apostles are linked to dozens of forced disappearances and murders in the northern province of Antioquia, where older brother Álvaro Uribe was governor during the late 1990s before serving as Colombia’s president from 2002-2010. 

The principal witness in the case is former police Major Juan Carlos Meneses, who testified in 2010 that Santiago created and ran the Twelve Apostles with the complicity of local law enforcement officials. He also stated that he had no evidence linking the former president to the paramilitary group. Santiago Uribe has denied these allegations.

The former president was in the United States at the time of his brother’s arrest but is expected to arrive in Medellín on March 1. 

InSight Crime Analysis

With the arrest of Santiago Uribe, the question now becomes just how deeply Álvaro Uribe’s administration was connected to organized crime and paramilitary networks. It is unclear if there were simply isolated elements of the administration involved in crime, if Uribe ran a full-fledged criminal regime, or if the truth lies somewhere in between. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

Uribe left office in 2010 with enormously high approval ratings thanks to his strident offensive against left-wing guerrillas, but since then he has been dogged by scandals and allegations of corruption that occurred during his administration. Colombia’s former Agriculture Minister, Andrés Felipe Arias, was arrested in 2011 on corruption charges, while two top Uribe officials were sentenced last year for their role in a wiretapping scandal.  

Several of Uribe’s family members have also been linked to criminal organizations. His cousin, Mario, was arrested in 2008 as part of the so-called “parapolitics” scandal in which dozens of politicians were detained for their ties to paramilitary groups during the Uribe administration. Colombian officials also extradited the mother of Uribe’s niece to the United States on drug trafficking and money laundering charges in 2012, and the former president himself has been directly linked to the once mighty Medellín Cartel.

Santiago Uribe’s arrest comes at a crucial time, with Colombia entering the final stretch of a lengthy peace process with Marxist rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). The elder Uribe, currently a senator affiliated with the Centro Democrático political party, has been the leading voice opposing a potential peace deal with the FARC. 

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