An incident late last week in Bogotá, getting reported as hearsay in Colombia’s media, raises serious concerns about the independence of President-Elect Iván Duque from his patron, the hardline former president and current Senator Álvaro Uribe. It also raises concerns that the peace accord with the FARC, which Duque and Uribe both criticize but Duque has promised not to “tear up,” is in grave trouble.
Here, writing in Spain’s El País, is analyst Ariel Avila of the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, a critic of Duque and Uribe:
The transition between the outgoing and incoming government has begun and, as expected, the peace issue has been the most decisive. Currently, the Congress is considering a bill that would become the procedural law for the JEP, or Special Peace Jurisdiction [the peace accords’ transitional justice mechanism for trying the most serious war crimes]. Though it is an ordinary law that only impacts timeframes and procedures, the Democratic Center Party [that of Iván Duque and ex-president Álvaro Uribe] opposed it and has blocked its advance through the Congress.
In their meeting last week, both President Juan Manuel Santos and the president-elect, Iván Duque, decided to call the president of the Constitutional Court, Colombia’s maximum judicial tribunal, in order to clear up some of the new government’s doubts about this law. Several sources said that Congresswoman Paloma Valencia, one of the most active in ex-president Álvaro Uribe’s party, upon hearing that Duque green-lighted a meeting of congressional blocs to move the bill forward, immediately took out her telephone and apparently called Uribe, not Iván Duque. And as would be expected, Uribe added conditions to President-Elect Duque’s decision.
El Espectador offers a bit more detail about this bizarre incident.
There is a final detail that El Espectador learned. Sources with seats in the Capitol confirmed that, while the Santos-Duque meeting was happening, another meeting was taking place in the Interior Ministry with a subcommittee of legislators who were delegated to review the JEP’s situation. …What drew attention was the phone call that the uribista congresswoman [Senator Paloma Valencia] made while the meeting was going on.
What happened? The first agreement that Santos and Duque arrived at, as the President himself said on Friday, was to call the president of the Constitutional Court, Alejandro Linares, to get him to clear up the president-elect’s doubts about whether or not procedure allowed the JEP’s law to be approved [before the Court has ruled on the constitutionality of the JEP’s larger statutory law, passed last November. The Constitutional Court ruling on that is due any day now].
Linares said that the Santos administration was right, and there was a green light to pass the law. With these doubts cleared up, the incoming chief of state asked for a meeting between his party’s congressional bloc and representatives of other parties to hear proposals about the bill that would become the procedural law.
The message—and this is what those present in the Interior Ministry say—arrived immediately. The government conveyed the message to Paloma Valencia who, surprised, apparently said, “Iván said that?”
She immediately grabbed her mobile phone: “Hola, pre [as in ‘presidente’].”
But she wasn’t talking to Duque, but to ex-president Álvaro Uribe, whom she consulted about the new president’s decision, asking him for instructions.
Uribe gave his approval to what was agreed between the outgoing and incoming presidents, but he asked the Senator [Valencia] to add three conditions: that FARC members responsible for the most serious crimes would be prohibited from participating in politics, to create a new separate chamber to judge military personnel within the JEP, and to establish a special procedure for third-party civilians involved in the conflict [for instance, landowners or politicians who aided paramilitaries. These three conditions radically alter what is in the peace accord and could be dealbreakers].
Without alluding directly to this episode, President Santos said, “Those issues would require a constitutional reform, but any modification on which there is consensus, that improves the accords, would be welcome.” …However, he alerted that “it’s not the right moment to block efforts to do our duty to the victims. I hope that you vote on the JEP procedural law. I’m leaving government and I leave peace in your hands.”
What happened behind the backdrop is a first bit of evidence about the independence of the president-elect, Iván Duque, and the leadership that he will exercise over his party’s bloc in the Congress, of which ex-president Uribe is also a part.
For context, two considerations. On one hand, Iván Duque’s independence is going to be rather complicated, and the fear that he may look more like a puppet than a president is starting to circulate in the corridors of politics. It would be something like the relation between Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev in Russia. And on the other hand, everything seems to indicate that the idea of destroying all of President Santos’s legacy, and obviously the peace deal, is their first and most important objective.