A supposed “debate” between former President Alvaro Uribe and leftist Senator Ivan Cepeda over Uribe’s links to drug trafficking and paramilitary groups has become front page news in Colombia. But due to limits placed on the debate by his supporters, and because Uribe’s attendance is in doubt, the event may have a limited impact.
The debate is the result of a long bureaucratic battle waged by Ivan Cepeda, who has attempted to force a formal legislative examination of Uribe’s alleged dirty past ever since the former president assumed a Senate seat in July. He submitted a proposal to the full Senate soon after the current term began, and while Uribe himself voted in favor of it, the measure was ultimately defeated by a 52-30 vote.
But Cepeda was not dissuaded, and instead pressed for a debate in a side committee, the “Second Commission,” which was ultimately arranged. However, an Uribista think tank known as the Centro de Pensamiento subsequently presented a challenge to the proposal to the Senate Ethics Committee. In an absurd twist, earlier this month the committee ruled that the debate could go forward, but only if Cepeda did not mention Uribe by name.
The event is slated to take place today on the Senate floor at 9am Bogota time (10am EST). Nearly every major paper in the country has coverage of the debate this morning. El Tiempo reports that as of last night, Uribe had not confirmed whether he will be attending the debate, and that he is under no obligation to do so. According to El Espectador, several leading figures in his Centro Democratico party have come out in support of Uribe ahead of the event, insisting that the numerous, repeated reports that he had ties to the AUC paramilitary coalition are false and defamatory.
Even if Uribe fails to show, the debate should draw further attention to these allegations, which the ex-president has found hard to shake since leaving office. Yesterday Cepeda told RCN Noticias that he intends to mention Uribe by name in his remarks today, and to focus his arguments on specific evidence of paramilitary collusion, regardless of the Ethics Committee’s resolution. According to Semana magazine, the head of the Ethics Committee himself has also softened the ban on mentioning Uribe, saying that in practice it only prevents Cepeda from touching on “issues of a personal nature.”
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