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The Collective
Thursday, August 2, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via Reuters: Colombia high court wins support in Uribe dispute

Colombian judges rallied around the country’s Supreme Court on Wednesday as President Alvaro Uribe seeks to bypass its decision to ban former right-wing paramilitaries from running for political office.

The fight between the president and the high court threatens to unravel a peace deal in which 31,000 former paramilitary fighters have turned in their guns in exchange for pardons and the right to hold public positions.

Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office, the Constitutional Court and other legal institutions met on Tuesday to express their support for the Supreme Court.

A spokesman for the high court said a statement was expected on Wednesday from the institutions “backing the court in this argument with the president.”

Last month it decided that demobilized paramilitary fighters must be charged with common crimes like drug trafficking and murder rather than with sedition.

The ruling shook the foundation of the peace deal, which promises that many paramilitaries will face only political charges, which can be pardoned, in connection to their 20-year struggle against left-wing rebels.

Once pardoned, they would be able to run for political office, an avenue that is closed if they have a serious criminal conviction on their records.

If the Supreme Court decision stands, many “paras” have said they will stop cooperating with investigators and halt the turnover of their illegally acquired wealth.

I would note that it is unclear as to whether they are, in fact, being required to turn over their ill-gotten gains.

This situation is very interesting and has multiple components, not the least of which being a test of the institutional strength of the judicial branch vis-a-vis the executive. There is also the very real issue of the appropriate manner for treating the paramilitaries. While by the numbers it would seem that there has been a substantial demobilization, which is quite positive given that the paras are very much responsible for the lion’s share of the violence in the last decade plus, the problem is that it seems that many of them are not staying demobilized.

Uribe appears headed to the Congress to seek a legislative remedy. One would think that he would have a very good chance of getting it, given his support in the legislature. On the other hand, he has suffered in the eyes of public opinion (although he is still around 66% approval) and one wonders if that will affect some of that legislative support, given that it rests on a coalition of smaller parties, rather than on one large one tied directly to the President. Uribe ran as an independent affiliated with parties who ran in the congressional elections rather than actually joining a party himself.

The issue also has some short-term importance, given that:

Several former militia fighters say they plan to run in October provincial elections, sparking concern that paramilitaries may not only get away with the crimes they committed, but might end up running parts of the country.

[Cross-posted from La Politica Colombiana]

To discuss this article, go here.

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  1. For US readers, it is well worth nothing that the Attorney General in Colombia is not a subordinate of the executive branch, but rather is an independent institution.

    A very progressive idea, I might note, and a reform that looks more and more appealing as we learn how the US Justice Dept. has benn subverted by the current administration.

    (Steven, I clicked on your go “here” to discuss the article, and I think it took me where I would have gone, anyway.)

    Comment by MSS — Friday, August 3, 2007 @ 2:17 pm

  2. […] Original post by Dr. Steven Taylor […]

    Pingback by The Judiciary Rallies Around Supreme Court Against Uribe on the Para Peace Plan : — Monday, August 6, 2007 @ 3:45 am

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