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Colombia's former president linked to Medellín drug cartel

A Colombian senator told the U.S. Embassy in 1993 that the founders of the Medellín drug cartel “financed” the election campaign of then-senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez, according to documents posted today by the National Security Archive. Uribe served as president of Colombia from 2002-2010 and remains an important player in Colombian politics.

The newly-released cables describe nearly a decade of U.S. Embassy interactions with Uribe and show that U.S. diplomats had persistent concerns about Uribe’s ties to drug trafficking even as Embassy officials developed a working relationship the rapidly rising political leader.

In a February 1993 meeting with the U.S. Embassy Political Officer, Senator Luis Guillermo Vélez Trujillo, a longtime political ally of Uribe, said that the Ochoa Vásquez crime family “had financed [Uribe’s] political campaign,” adding that “Uribe is a cousin of the Ochoas [sic] Vasquez narcotrafficking family,” founders of the infamous narcotics trafficking group.

Vélez Trujillo told the Embassy that Uribe’s familial and financial ties to the Ochoas explained why Uribe and two others had secretly met with the wife of fugitive Medellín Cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar in December 1992 in an unsuccessful effort to negotiate his surrender to Colombian authorities. He said that “Escobar, through the Ochoas, is now demanding Uribe return the favors by trying to open a communication channel to [Colombian President César] Gaviria,” according to a U.S. Embassy cable describing the meeting with Vélez Trujillo.

At the time, Vélez Trujillo and Uribe were both Liberal Party senators from the department of Antioquia. Vélez was later a founding member of the pro-Uribe political party, Partido de la U.

Another Embassy contact cited in the cable, former Liberal Party senator Alejandro González, “reiterated [Luis Guillermo] Velez’s charges that Uribe fears for his life because he was unable to deliver for his Medellin cartel mentors,” according to the cable.

As president, Uribe forged strong ties with the U.S., secured billions in security assistance, extradited record numbers of drug trafficking suspects, and, through an aggressive military campaign, reduced by more than half the number of armed guerrilla insurgents in the country. In 2014, Uribe was again elected to the Colombian Senate, this time representing the Democratic Center Party.

But despite his continuing popularity in Colombia, lingering suspicions about his ties to drug traffickers, human rights abuses, and his encouragement of right-wing “paramilitary” forces have continued to tarnish his legacy.

There was a massive increase in extrajudicial killings by the Colombian Army during Uribe’s presidency (the “false positives” scandal). Members of his government, through the DAS intelligence agency, illegally surveilled and intimidated a long list of political opponents, including journalists, judges and human rights activists. Uribe’s cousin, Mario Uribe Escobar, is serving a sentence for his involvement with paramilitary groups, while his brother, Santiago Uribe Vélez, is now on trial for leading a death squad knowns as the 12 Apostles.

Recently it was revealed that the Colombian Supreme Court is investigating Álvaro Uribe himself for murder and witness intimidation connected to an investigation of crimes committed by members of the Metro Bloc, an illegal paramilitary militia group allegedly formed by Uribe and members of his family.

Read entire article at National Security Archive