We are not asking for any pardons: Wife of Andres Felipe Arias
The following interview appeared in the September 29, 2016, edition of Colombian daily, El Espectador.
Catalina Serrano maintains that Arias, sentenced to 17 years in prison for irregularities in Agro Ingreso Seguro, should have the right to an appeal.
Catalina Serrano, wife of Andres Felipe Arias, has lived through everything that followed the investigation against the ex-minister of Agriculture for irregularities in Agro Ingrso Seguro. She and her husband agreed to answer questions from El Espectador. Her responses are published exactly as they were received via email from the United States, where she and Arias await a decision as to whether Arias will be extradited or allowed to remain in the United States pending a decision on his request for asylum. He also responded to questions from this daily (see the interview with Andres Felipe Arias.)
What went through your mind when they detained your husband again?
For me, before August 24, 2016, I thought that I had put the worst part of my life behind me… but it wasn’t so. What we were always told could never happen, happened. And it happened to us.
What is the status of your petition for asylum?
That is a confidential matter.
What was your family’s routine up until your husband was detained?
We have always believed in the “family” according to God’s original design. And it was in this country where, for two years, we were finally able to live according to that model: Andres, always disciplined, organized, with a strong work ethic. I was a stay at home mom, focused on my children and my husband. Here we were able to become a strong family; we had the opportunity to build that which we never could in our country. Juanpe and Elo experienced what it was like to have their father with them, to have him as a role model, to have his company, his hugs, his wise advice and his unconditional love.
You have said that in the United States you have lived on solidarity. What does that mean?
Thank God, our family has counted with the solidarity of others ever since this nightmare began. But that doesn’t mean we have lived solely on that. We have legal status in the United States and for two consecutive years, both he (Andres F.) and I have had a work permit. Andres is a man of extraordinary ability, disciplined, committed, and very responsible – qualities that were not appreciated in our country, but that here he was able to good use with people who believe in him.
What will you do if Andres Felipe is extradited?
What we have never lost, is the belief that sooner or later this will turn out well. The truth will be brought to light and we are in a country that respects and defends justice.
Do you ever wish that your husband had not been so loyal to expresident Uribe?
Among the qualities I admire most about by husband, is loyalty.
Do you feel Uribe reciprocates [this loyalty]?
I’m certain that our pain and President Uribe’s is the same. He knows, as we know, that this struggle is the struggle that will revive the justice system in Colombia.
Uribe’s party has accused President Santos of pressuring [the United States] to detain Andres Felipe Arias. Do you agree?
What I believe is that to build solid and lasting peace in Colombia, all Colombians have to be committed to it. But it is evident that, while peace is being signed with those who have done so much harm to the country, war is being waged against those who served Colombia honorably. If there is no political peace, there will not be a sustainable peace. I say to President Santos: If you hunt down, prosecute and jail those who were your colleagues in the government, who worked without pause to debilitate the FARC with you, who helped you reach the presidency in 2010, for accusations you know to be false, how can there be peace and reconciliation in Colombia?
Do you believe that the Santos government is using your husband’s case to pressure Uribe’s party?
I’m afraid that they want to convert my husband into a symbol of the Special Peace Jurisdiction [peace tribunals], where he would be offered a pardon, in order to get Uribe’s party to support the [peace] agreement. Not only was my husband’s political career ended, his ability to lead a normal life was also destroyed when he was convicted for a crime that he did not commit. My children deserve to see their father exonerated because he is innocent, not because crimes he never committed have been pardoned. We are not seeking a pardon. We are only seeking the possibility of an appeal before an impartial judge.
There are those who maintain that your husband should only have been convicted of omission. What is your opinion?
Thank God every day there are more people who, having become interested in the case, have analyzed it carefully, from both a judicial and academic standpoint, and recognized the injustice of the conviction.
What do you think of the sentences handed down to those who embezzled AIS resources?
I think Colombia should focus on recuperating the honor of its justice system. I wonder if the sentence imposed on my husband is in just proportion to the sanctions imposed on those who embezzled public funds. I still don’t understand , as so many Colombians who write to me on a daily basis don’t understand, how it is that Andres – just for being who he is, and not having embezzled a single cent — was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison for entering into agreements identical to those signed by all the other ministers of Agriculture.
Have you had any contact with other members of Uribe’s party seeking asylum, such as Luis Alfonso Hoyos?
There are many families like mine facing persecution. This difficult situation has brought us closer.
Why did you decide to flee rather than abide by the Supreme Court ruling?
We left Colombia in order to appeal to one of the oldest concepts in international law: asylum for victims of political persecution. We have never fled. We have sought the protection of our rights before the international community because, in Colombia, those rights were unjustly violated.
Here are some thoughts: My husband was convicted for executing “contracts” improperly.
First: My husband did not execute a contract. He entered into an agreement. These are two very different things before the law. This shows, from the start, the wrongful application of the Penal Code.
Second: Between 1993 and February 2005, when Andres assumed his position as Minister, previous ministers entered into 132 no-bid agreements with the IICA, the agricultural office of the OAS, in an identical manner. But the only person investigated and convicted has been Andres Felipe Arias.
Third: Andres, like many of his colleagues, was denied the right to an appeal, something that is recognized in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Indeed, [Colombia’s] Constitutional Court has established that an appeal process has to be created.
Fourth: He is convicted of the illegal “appropriation” [of public resources] in favor of third parties (third parties that admitted they did not know my husband.) Appropriation involves taking ownership of something over which you have no ownership and having the intention of not returning it or adding it to your assets. So, how can there be a crime of appropriation when these conditions do not exist? It’s impossible, and that is why it is unjust. In the trial it was proven that the resources taken by those who perpetrated the fraud against the program were actually invested in agriculture. The resources did not go to their personal accounts. They went into a fiduciary entity that would disburse funds as the [agricultural project] were completed. The third parties recognized their responsibility and returned the funds. Andres was absolved of any anomaly in his assets. So, where is the “appropriation?”
Fifth: I ask myself, if this happened to anyone reading this interview, would they see it as an option to spend 17 years in jail while being innocent, separated from his children and his family, just to comply with a politicized justice system?
Will you stay with your husband regardless of what happens?
Andres and I made a pact of love, commitment and loyalty before God. I will be with him until death do us part.
You can find the original article here: