Álvaro Uribe’s Detention Deepens Colombia’s Divisions

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Colombians, the office said, must “stop the aggression and the extreme polarization that could bring new scenes of violence. To the crisis created by the pandemic of Covid-19, we cannot add a pandemic of hate that clouds the future, threatens democracy and submerges us in a new night of pain.”

At a crowded pro-Uribe gathering in Medellín following the decision, a throng of cars cloaked in Colombian flags lined a major downtown avenue. And protesters said they were outraged that their hero had been detained while, under the terms of the 2016 peace deal, thousands of former guerrilla fighters have gone free.

Santiago Vásquez, 23, called Mr. Uribe “the best president Colombia has ever had,” describing him as the man who crippled the country’s largest rebel group, known as the FARC. He feared the former president’s detention would strengthen the left, ushering in the old days of violence.

“Uribe! Amigo! Colombia is with you!” Mr. Uribe’s allies shouted.

Hundreds of miles away, in the capital of Bogotá, Colombians leaned out of homes across the city, banging pots in frenzied celebration. Families of those who had died in the war had thought Mr. Uribe would never be called before a court to answer for his role and found themselves barely able to believe the news.

“I pray that he pays for all the pain,” said Lucero Carmona Martínez, 61, who said her son Omar, 26, was killed by security forces at a time when Mr. Uribe was president and the military, under pressure to increase the body count in combat, was killing civilians along with rebel fighters.

Mr. Uribe, over the last 40 years, rose from being a relatively small-time bureaucrat to the most powerful politician in the country, wielding his charisma to create an entire political movement — Uribismo — in his name.

He has long said that his father was killed by the FARC, something the group has denied.

When he became president in 2002, a decades-long insurgency that had begun as a fight over inequality had grown devastatingly violent. Highway blockades, kidnappings and city bombings were regular occurrences, and much of the nation was desperate for someone to restore order and to defeat the FARC.

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