Colombian president’s ally arrested for militia ties

July 26th, 2008 - 11:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Bogota, July 26 (IANS) Colombian Senator Carlos Garcia, head of a party closely allied with President Alvaro Uribe, has been arrested for his alleged ties with paramilitary squads, Spain’s EFE news agency reported Saturday. Garcia was detained at a hotel in the Caribbean city of Santa Marta, a spokesman at the Attorney General’s office said.

His arrest was ordered by the country’s highest court, which has charged him with conspiring with the militia to intimidate voters.

Garcia’s arrest brings to 70 the number of congressmen under investigation by the Supreme Court for presumed ties with the ostensibly demobilized AUC paramilitary federation. Half of them are currently in jail.

The majority of the suspects belong to parties or movements that are allied with Uribe and make up the coalition that has a majority in Congress.

The scandal over the ties between far-right militiamen and conservative politicians - known as the “para-politica” scandal - broke a year and a half ago with the divulging of an accord between congressmen and other officials and AUC leaders to “re-found the country.”

Uribe’s cousin and close ally, Mario Uribe, currently is in jail pending trial for alleged links to the paramilitaries, though Uribe has not yet been touched directly by the scandal.

The AUC, which was originally formed to battle leftist guerrillas but later degenerated into little more than a crime syndicate with political pretensions, held sway in many lawless rural areas until recently and had the power to deliver the vote to compliant politicians.

Garcia has been accused by former fighters of the now-demobilized Tolima Bloc, which operated in the same-named western province, of having maintained ties with them.

“If the Court has doubts, I’ll clear things up and I hope … it is convinced that I’ve committed no crime,” Garcia told reporters shortly after his arrest.

Garcia was leader of Congress in 2001 and currently heads the Party of National Social Unity, better known as the Partido de la U. That grouping was created to promote Uribe’s re-election in 2006, a victory that was only possible after the constitution was amended to allow him to run again.

The Partido de la U is also the driving force behind an effort to let Uribe - widely popular for badly weakening the guerrillas during his time in office - run for a third term.

Especially notorious for massacres of civilians suspected of sympathizing with FARC rebels, the AUC - like the guerrillas - became deeply involved in the drug trade and was designated a terrorist group by the US.

While the rebels have used brutal means - such as hostage-taking and assassinations - militias are considered by many independent observers to have the bloodiest hands in Colombia’s long-running armed conflict.

They also are considered responsible for a sizeable portion of the 2-4 million internal refugees in Colombia.

Many leftists in Colombia and elsewhere accuse Uribe of being overly lenient with those paramilitaries who have turned in their weapons in recent years.

Uribe has responded to these accusations by saying that his government has succeeded in dismantling the AUC, which was once more than 30,000 strong. Even Colombian authorities admit, however, that “emerging bands” of paramilitaries are still active in different areas of the country.

The Colombian government extradited more than a dozen paramilitary leaders to the US this year for continuing to run their criminal empires from prison.

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