Colombia’s President Uribe defends brother against death squad charge, blames criminals

By Luisa Fernanda Cuellar, AP
Friday, May 28, 2010

Uribe defends brother against death squad charge

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian President Alvaro Uribe defended his brother Friday against allegations of having led a right-wing death squad from the family ranch during the early 1990s.

In an interview with Todelar radio, Uribe suggested that the accusations by former police Maj. Juan Carlos Meneses were a fabrication and that he believed Meneses was paid by criminals.

Meneses was police chief in Yarumal, where the Uribe ranch is located, for four months during 1994. He told The Associated Press that Uribe’s younger brother, Santiago, ran a death squad from the ranch during that time.

Meneses said Santiago Uribe paid him to allow its operation and estimated it killed at least 50 people. He said he fled Colombia in October after receiving death threats and has been living in neighboring Venezuela.

Last month, Meneses told his story to 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel and other human rights activists in Argentina. His story was first published by The Washington Post and Pagina 12 of Argentina.

“In this thing about my brother, what draws my attention is the ability of criminals to penetrate society,” Uribe told Todelar radio.

“Criminals are able to make a useful idiot out of a Nobel Peace Prize winner,” he said in a clear reference to Perez Esquivel. “They have the ability to make a useful idiot out of a priest, and they have the ability to penetrate a serious newspaper like The Washington Post.”

In a phone interview Monday with the AP, Meneses said Santiago Uribe claimed his older brother, a senator at the time, was fully aware of the death squad. But Meneses said he had no evidence Alvaro Uribe had any knowledge of the illegal militia and did not meet the man until nearly a decade later.

Santiago Uribe, 53, called the accusations “false and infamous” in a statement this week, noting that investigators shelved the case in the mid-1990s for lack of evidence.

After the story broke, the national police chief, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, called a news conference to announce that another retired officer had claimed Meneses offered him $250,000 to made the same accusations against Santiago Uribe.

That officer, Lt. Col. Pedro Manuel Benavides, turned down the offer, Naranjo said.

Colombian prosecutors say the case against Santiago Uribe could be reopened and they are seeking a full account of Meneses’ testimony.

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