Arise Senator Alvaro Uribe.
Colombia´s controversial, but charismatic and popular former president will stand in next March´s congressional elections. Victory is assured for Uribe who heads up a closed list of candidates of which around 20 hopefuls could sweep to power.
But the decision to place Jose Obdulio Gaviria (JOG, picture above), cousin of Pablo Escobar Gaviria, ninth on that list threatens to overshadow Mr Uribe´s return to the stage, reducing the election campaign to a zero-sum mud fight.
Jose Obdulio Gaviria is Uribe´s biggest tactical blunder to date, ensuring this election campaign has gone negative before it has even started.
Is Uribe committing a slow political suicide?
¡Ojo! Colombia Politics here expresses no view on the legal appropriateness or not of the prospect of Senator JOG, nor do we seek to judge his past on evidence we have not seen.
Simply put, even if we were cheerleaders for JOG we would continue to see his inclusion on Uribe´s list as a bizarre and politically counter-intuitive move.
Chief adviser during the Casa de Nariño years, Jose Obdulio Gaviria is a figure that divides opinion. In truth there are those that passionately cannot abide the man. There are those who even accuse him of directly working with his cousin Escobar´s Medellin Cartel.
Former President Andres Pastrana – himself a victim of kidnapping at the hands of Escobar´s mafia – has warned that a Senator JOG would represent a victory for narcotraffickers, while the Galan boys (Senator Juan Manuel, and ex corruption Tzar Carlos Fernando) – sons of murdered former presidential candidate, Luis Carlos Galan have complained the result would be an affront to the victims of Escobar´s reign of terror.
Since JOG’s inclusion on the senate list was made seven days ago, a chorus of disapproval has been sounded, and not only in political circles but also across the national media.
Although JOG vehemently denies it, he stands accused not only of visiting Escobar on a regular basis while the drug kingpin was “imprisoned” in the infamous Catedral (a sort of playground prison built by Escobar himself), but also of receiving campaign donations from “El Patron del Mal”.
Roberto “El Osito” Escobar (Pablo´s brother) has even claimed he had worked with JOG, but later retracted the statement.
JOG´s defence has been that it is all heresay – often promoted by those on the far left attempting to divert attention from their own questionable relationships with “armed illegal groups”. He claims – understandably enough – that he cannot be blamed for the sins of his family. Nothing has stuck, says JOG. Innocent until proven guilty.
Colombia Politics cannot claim to know more about JOG than anyone else. The editor has met Señor Gaviria on two occasions and found him to be not unpleasant, polite even. What we think about the evidence against him is largely irrelevant, and we would encourage caution ahead of wrongful public conviction.
But politically the point is not whether JOG did or didn´t have relations with Escobar, as Clinton might have said, but rather the effect these accusations and his presence on the list will have on Uribe´s bid to return to the stage.
Uribe himself is unbeatable. Millions still credit him with saving Colombia from the abyss. When the hardline former Governor of Antioquia came to power in 2002, the FARC had a presence in 50% of the nation´s municipalities. By the time he had left, the terrorist group had been pushed back into their mountain hideouts.
Despite this popularity, however, there are many who consider Uribe to be tainted by alleged links to Colombia´s right wing paramilitary groups. Since leaving office, accusations of shady dealings have increased and the bespectacled polemicist even faces trial in his home city, Medellin.
No smoking gun has emerged, and Uribe continues to deny any links to these groups. Accused does not mean guilty.
But again, whether or not Uribe did does or ever had any links to these illegal groups is not the issue here. Politics is about perceptions. Ok, so no mud has stuck, and no flames have yet been identified, but Uribe needs like a hole in the head someone around whom there is already plenty of smoke. Unfortunately for Jose Obdulio Gaviria he has the potential to remind Colombians of a past they wish to forget.
For many Colombians the insinuations about Uribe´s background are enough; they will never vote for him in a million years.
But for many millions who have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, for those who remember fondly his time in office – or begrudgingly accept that the ends justified the means – will the thought of JOG in the Senate be just enough to turn them off, to look elsewhere to mark their X?
From now until March political opponents will run relentless campaigns linking JOG to Escobar. It is all we will hear. In politics they say the worst crime is to let the opposition define you. Well, Uribe has made President Santos´life a whole lot easier in doing just that.
Uribe himself might not be dead in the water. The political suicide I´m referring to is not his own, but of his movement.
Why hamstring the changes of winning those 20 senators, or more?
Why hamstring your presidential candidate, Pacho Santos?
Why let your opponents drown out your arguments?
Politics is a ruthless game. Uribe claims JOG is on the list out of loyalty. Fine, admirable even, but loyalty is useless in defeat.
Politics is also the art of the possible. To make your job more difficult – or less possible – is to shoot yourself in the foot.
Suicide? Perhaps not, but if the Centro Democratico movement fails to get on its feet, Uribe will only have himself to blame.
Kevin is a political consultant and lobbyist who cut his teeth working in the UK Parliament. He is a regular panelist on Colombian television, a political communication strategist and a university lecturer. Kevin is the founder and editor of Colombia Politics.