Colombian Foreign Minister Resigns as Paramilitary Scandal Widens

Associated Press
Tuesday, February 20, 2007

BOGOTA, Colombia, Feb. 19 -- Colombia's foreign minister resigned on Monday as a growing scandal swept the country's political establishment, linking it to far-right paramilitary groups blamed for thousands of killings and other crimes.

María Consuelo Araújo announced her resignation four days after her brother, a senator, was jailed on charges of colluding with paramilitary groups and possible involvement in the kidnapping of a potential political rival. The Supreme Court also recommended that federal prosecutors investigate her father -- a former governor, federal lawmaker and agriculture minister -- in the kidnapping case.

"I clearly see the need for the judicial process to be free of interference, and my certainty in the innocence of my father and my brother obliges me to have the freedom to stand by them and support them," Araújo said in her resignation statement, which she read at a brief news conference.

Within hours, President Álvaro Uribe appointed Fernando Araújo, who escaped from six years in rebel captivity just six weeks ago, to the post. The two Araújos are not related.

Uribe had initially stuck by María Consuelo Araújo, whom he appointed six months ago. But concerns about Colombia's international image being tainted by her family's alleged close ties with the paramilitary fighters -- her cousin, the governor of her home state of Cesar, is also under investigation -- made her continuance in the post untenable.

More than 60 federal and regional politicians, almost all of them from the Caribbean coast region, are being questioned by the Supreme Court. The opposition is calling for early congressional elections, asserting that infiltration by the paramilitary groups is so great that the legislative body has lost credibility.

All of those arrested are close political allies of Uribe, who remains popular for having tamed violence in Colombia's major cities since 2002.

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