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New Left Review 23, September-October 2003

The longue durée of Uribe’s Colombia, from its origins in the mid-19th century, through the Violencia of the postwar years, to the coming of today’s guerrillas, narco-traffickers and paramilitaries. Conditions and prospects of the latest campaign to wipe out armed insurgency against Latin America’s oldest ruling order.



With Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s inauguration as President of Colombia on 7 August 2002, the outlaws have become the establishment. Uribe’s father, Alberto Uribe Sierra, had been languishing in debt in the middle-class Medellín neighbourhood of Laureles, in the mid-1970s, when a strange reversal of fortune catapulted him to wealth and influence as political broker and real-estate intermediary for the narco-traffickers, boasting extensive cattle ranches in Antioquia and Córdoba. Uribe Sierra was connected by marriage to the Ochoas, an elite family that joined the upwardly mobile contrabandistas arribistas to form the Medellín cartel; when Pablo Escobar launched his ‘Medellín without slums’ campaign in 1982, Uribe Sierra organized a fundraising horse race to help out. Uribe fils was removed from his post as mayor of Medellín for his conspicuous attendance at a meeting of the region’s drug cartel at Escobar’s hacienda, Nápoles. When his father was murdered at his ranch in 1983, leaving behind debts of around $10 million, Álvaro Uribe flew there in Escobar’s helicopter. During his tenure as governor of Antioquia, between 1995 and 1997, Uribe’s ‘Montesinos’—to borrow a phrase from Alfredo Molano—was Pedro Juan Moreno Villa, alleged by a former us dea chief to be the country’s leading importer of potassium permanganate, the main chemical precursor in the manufacture of cocaine. [1] See Joseph Contreras, with the collaboration of Fernando Garavito, El Señor de las Sombras: Biografía no autorizada de Álvaro Uribe Vélez, Bogotá 2000, pp. 35–43, 65–72, 92, 167. Contreras is Newsweek’s Latin American editor, and Garavito a Colombian political columnist recently driven into exile by paramilitary death threats. For Molano, see ‘Peor el remedio’, El Espectador, 1 September 2002.

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Forrest Hylton, ‘Colombia: An Evil Hour’, NLR 23: £3

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