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Colombia Supreme Court Places Former President Under House Arrest

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Supreme Court in Colombia on Tuesday ordered the arrest of former President Alvaro Uribe, who's one of the country's most powerful politicians. Many Colombians adore Uribe for leading a military offensive against Marxist guerrillas. But he has long faced allegations of human rights abuses. Here's reporter John Otis.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: During his two terms as Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe's hard line security policies badly weakened the guerrillas, who eventually signed a peace treaty. After he left office in 2010, Uribe was elected to the Senate and helped elect the next two Colombian presidents.

POLY MARTINEZ: His followers really believe that he is the greatest Colombian ever to - I don't know - to walk on Colombian soil.

OTIS: That's Poly Martinez, a columnist for the Colombian newsmagazine Semana. She points out that Uribe's presidency was also plagued by scandals. Under Uribe's watch, army troops killed thousands of innocent civilians then claimed they were guerrilla fighters. Uribe's intelligence agency spied on journalists, opposition leaders and Supreme Court judges. His current troubles stem from allegations that during the war, Uribe supported the formation of paramilitary death squads. The Supreme Court is now investigating whether Uribe bribed witnesses to change their testimony. Sergio Guzman is the director of the consultancy Colombia Risk Analysis.

SERGIO GUZMAN: The evidence against President Uribe must be pretty solid for the Supreme Court to take this step.

OTIS: However, the news that Uribe would be placed under house arrest outraged his supporters, including current president Ivan Duque.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT IVAN DUQUE: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: He pointed out that the guerrillas Uribe had fought so hard to defeat, and who've been accused of kidnappings and massacres, have avoided prison under the generous terms of Colombia's 2016 peace treaty. But Ivan Cepeda, the opposition senator who accused Uribe of having ties to paramilitaries, was elated.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IVAN CEPEDA: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: He said the court's decision shows that no matter how powerful you are, no one is above the law.

For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Bogota, Colombia.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTAN DE LIEGE'S "SAILS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.