The Showdown Between the Judiciary and the Santos Government


During the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010), Colombian courts defended their independence and the separation of power by holding the executive and the legislative branches accountable to the rule of law. This position sparked a power struggle in the Colombian government that is far from over. 255Santos and Uribe (Credit: Latin American Herald Tribune)Now, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos is attempting to trim the power of the Supreme Court alongside the other courts.

There are several critical issues that I would like to tackle here in order to highlight what it going on.

1) As I have written in previous blogs, in Colombia the armed conflict has produced a hyper security state with a bloated security apparatus heavily penetrated by the narco-bourgeoisie and its paramilitary organizations. This is evident by the high numbers of military officers, security agencies, mayors, governors, government officials, and congressional representatives that were indicted or brought to trial for their ties to the narco-bourgeoisie. For instance, under the Uribe government, the Supreme Court—which according to the 1991 Constitution has the power to investigate and impeach legislative representatives—investigated or convicted more than 30% of the Colombian congress for their collaboration with the narco-bourgeoisie. This is unprecedented. The only other case to even come close was Process 8000, which was launched to investigate the presidential campaign of Ernesto Samper (1994-8) that was partially funded by the Cali Cartel. However, only a few were implicated in Process 8000.

Perhaps the most embarrassing for the Uribe government (in which Santos served as Minister Defense) was the fact that the convicted congressional members were Uribe supporters—a sign of the organic connection between the political establishment and the narco-bourgeoisie paramilitaries.

The Supreme Court, however, did not stop there. Many members of the establishment continue to be exposed, constantly eroding the legitimacy of the political system. Since 2010 the Supreme Court and other courts have implicated the following with ties with paramilitaries: Four former ministers under the Uribe administration, three former directors of the Department of Security (the equivalent to the FBI in the United States), and more than a dozen other officials including Uribe’s former chief-of-staff.

2) Why is the Santos government going after the Supreme Court and what are the wider implications if he succeeds? The answer to the first part of the question is obvious. The Supreme Court investigations are expanding and that could damage Santos supporters in Congress. This may explain why they are pushing for a bill to curtail the Supreme Court jurisdiction in investigating legislatures. Even more important, however, is that the Supreme Court and the Judiciary have served as a counterbalance to the consolidation of the hyper security state, which rests on the following pillars:

-A concentration of power in the executive branch.

-An institutional alliance between the executive and the bloated security apparatus.

-The support of the most conservative and reactionary elements of the dominant classes including the landed oligarchy, cattle ranchers, and the diverse political-military expressions of the narco-bourgeoisie.

The rule of law and the courts’ ability to hold the Colombian government accountable and transparent are the antithesis to the consolidation of the hyper security state. These are the dynamics that are driving the push to amend the Colombian constitution in order to redefine the role of the judiciary in a way that makes it more responsive to the hyper security state. This is what is at stake: the rule of law or the rule of the conservative and reactionary alliance.

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