Maria del Pilar Hurtado is not exactly a household name in the United States, but she is in Colombia, where this week she made headlines by being named a spy master.
Charges against her are as Nixonian as they are Obamaesque. Much like our 37th president, she’s accused of spying on the political opponents of then-President Alvaro Uribe. If proven, it would be serious indeed — or, as some here would say, no different than what politicians do in our own country when gathering opposition research.
If [Pilar Hurtado] spills the beans and is convincing enough, Uribe’s legacy and political career may be over. But at this point, nobody knows what she’ll actually do or say.
And much like our 44th president, she may have schemed to spy on her own people — just as President Obama and members of his administration who are complicit in the NSA spying scandal are suspected of doing to us.
Both of these U.S. presidents probably believed their deeds, albeit questionable, were necessary. And therein lies the rub — so did Pilar Hurtado probably feel that what she did was necessary for reasons of national security.
For Richard Nixon, it was the Vietnam War. For Barack Obama, it’s the war on terror. And for Pilar Hurtado and Alvaro Uribe, it was “las FARC.” When Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia controlled more than 100 municipalities. Colombia, plagued with crime and violence, led the world in both killings and kidnappings.
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Say what you want about Uribe, and yes there are those who criticize his tactics; but there is no question he made Colombia a more secure country. Implementing a clenched fist policy, Uribe tackled guerrillas and drug traffickers so effectively, he likely will go down as one of Colombia's finest presidents. In short, he took what was almost a failed state and turned into a secure nation with a successful economy.
Ironically enough though, his greatest challenge still lies ahead. It will be to prove his innocence or at the very least his disassociation from Pilar Hurtado, his diminutive head of intelligence. Pilar Hurtado fled Colombia and was granted asylum in neighboring Panama in 2010. However, last year the Panamanian government revoked her asylum. And last Friday, after Interpol put out an international arrest order for her, she turned herself in and is presently in custody in Bogota awaiting her fate.
The scandal tied to Pilar Hurtado involves illegal eavesdropping carried out between 2007 and 2009. Her office is accused of intercepting phone calls and emails of not just “narcos,” but also of politicians, journalists, human rights officials and possibly even justices of the Supreme Court. That’s the Obamaesque part.
As for the Nixonian part, what did President Uribe know and when did he know it? Uribe, now a senator, is defending himself on Twitter using the handle @AlvaroUribeVel and he’s not being shy. He is screaming his innocence with accusations of a political witch hunt against him and even a 15-point plan detailing his version.
But the real question will come down to the testimony of the star witness. Although Pilar Hurtado has never implicated the former president of any wrongdoing, the bet in Bogota is that prosecutors will offer her a deal to do just that. Reports are it may include the chance of home detention, a more comfortable prison, access to work and study, or even a reduced sentence.
If she spills the beans and is convincing enough, Uribe’s legacy and political career may be over. But at this point, nobody knows what she’ll actually do or say. In fact, let me make just one more presidential comparison. President Bill Clinton was once said to be on the ropes with his own scandal infamously called “Whitewater.”
All it would take, the media thought, was the testimony of a woman named Susan McDougal to bring him down. But McDougal refused to answer the grand jury’s questions. Instead, she chose to go to jail and stayed there for almost two years.
Will Pilar Hurtado be Uribe’s McDougal or will she sing like a bird? A nation waits, while a once great presidency hangs in the balance.