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Coronavirus Colombia: Arrested ex-President tests positive

Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe has tested positive for COVID-19, just a day after he was placed under house arrest as part of a fraud and witness tampering investigation.

Despite the positive test, Uribe is not presenting any symptoms. His two sons, Tomás and Jerónimo, are also infected with the virus. 

Testing was done Wednesday by a medical unit that visited the 68-year-old former president’s home in Cordoba, a province on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. 

‘He has not presented any major symptoms or any respiratory difficulties. We look forward to his speedy recovery and we send him a hug of solidarity from the Democratic Center’s headquarters,’ said senator Gabriel Velasco, the lead spokesperson for the political party, which Uribe help established in 2012.

Uribe was put on home confinement Tuesday, after the Supreme Court found that there was the possibility of obstruction of justice surrounding a probe of Uribe, who served as president from 2002 to 2010.

The investigation stems from accusations filed by Senator Iván Cepeda, who charges that Uribe was a founding member of a paramilitary group in his home province during the decades-long civil conflict involving government forces, leftist rebels and right-wing bands that left hundreds of thousands dead, displaced or missing. 

Uribe, a mentor of President Ivan Duque who now serves as a senator, has repeatedly declared his innocence in the case and questioned the high court’s independence. 

‘The deprivation of my freedom causes me a profound sadness for my wife, for my family and for the Colombians who still believe that I have done something good for the homeland,’ the 68-year-old wrote on Twitter.

It is the first time ever that a former president in Colombia has been ordered detained.  

‘I have always considered him and will considered him a genuine patriot, dedicated to serving Colombia,’ Duque said in a video statement. ‘Alvaro Uribe confronted drug trafficking, terrorism, and the totalitarian regimes of Latin America.

‘It hurts, as a Colombian, that many who have wounded the country with barbarities defend themselves in freedom … that an exemplary public servant who has held the highest position of the state cannot defend himself in freedom with the presumption of innocence.’  

Uribe’s political legacy remains highly polarizing, with some Colombians crediting him for weakening leftist rebels and turning the tide in the country’s long civil conflict with the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC], while others decry his iron-fisted approach. 

Some of the Andean nation’s most grave human rights abuses took place during his mandate.

Throughout his career, Uribe has been dogged by allegations of ties to drug cartels and paramilitaries. The civil aviation agency he led in the early 1980s was accused of giving air licenses to drug traffickers. Declassified State Department cables from a decade earlier show U.S. officials were told the up-and-coming politician had ties to cartels.

In 2012, Uribe accused Cepeda of orchestrating a plot to tie him to right-wing paramilitary groups.

But in 2018 the court said Cepeda had collected information from former fighters as part of his work and had not paid or pressured former paramilitaries.

Instead it was Uribe who was at fault, the court said, adding that his allies had undertaken new witness tampering efforts even after its original ruling.

Uribe and lawmaker Alvaro Hernán Prada face prison terms of up to 12 years. That would put Uribe in the ranks of other former Latin American presidents, including Brazil’s Lula da Silva and Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, who have served time in confinement.

‘There is no one in Colombia who is above justice or the law, no matter how influential they are,’ Cepeda said in a virtual news conference.

Uribe is best known for mounting an aggressive offensive against Marxist guerrillas during his 2002 to 2010 tenure. He and his family have long been accused of paramilitary links. His brother Santiago is facing a murder charge.

Uribe’s detention may weaken the cohesion of the Democratic Center in Congress as Duque ties to pass reforms meant to help manage the fallout of coronavirus.

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