BOGOTA (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Friday called for former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, who is under investigation for alleged witness tampering, to be released from house arrest.
The Supreme Court placed Uribe, perhaps the South American country’s most divisive politician, under detention in a unanimous decision last week that cited potential for obstruction of justice. He says he is innocent.
Pence said on Twitter he had spoken to current Colombian President Ivan Duque, an Uribe protege, on Friday.
“We respect Colombia’s institutions and independence,” Pence said. “But, as Former President Alvaro Uribe is under house arrest, we join all freedom loving voices around the world in calling on Colombian officials to let this Hero, who is a recipient of the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, defend himself as a free man.”
Uribe, who now serves as a senator, is being investigated over allegations that his surrogates tried to convince jailed former paramilitaries to lie about their interactions with a left-wing senator.
Duque and other Uribe allies have said his house arrest is unfair, comparing it to former rebel leaders who have been allowed to remain free while their war crimes proceedings move ahead. The guerrillas received special terms under a peace deal reviled by Uribe.
Duque has vociferously defended his mentor, while opponents hailed the Supreme Court’s decision as a long-awaited victory for judicial independence.
Uribe’s detention is the first time ever a Colombian court has detained a former president.
U.S. security and development officials, including National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, are due to meet Duque when they visit Colombia on Monday.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)