At Colombian dinner tables Álvaro Uribe has always been a topic “better avoided”, explains political organiser Isabel Pérez.
No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, Colombia’s ex-president who governed for two terms from 2002 to 2010, and perhaps the most powerful individual in the country, sparks passion.
Villain or hero?
Some view Mr Uribe as a hero, whose strong-armed military tactics in his government’s war against guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) quelled violence in much of the country.
Others say that those same tactics led to gross human rights violations, including the extrajudicial killings of thousands of innocent people.
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His critics describe him as a villain and accuse him of having ties with paramilitary groups, which he has denied.
That split often runs down a generational line. Older Colombians have stark memories of the violence before President Uribe’s time in office while younger Colombians associate the right-wing politician with the damaging investigations that now plague his political legacy.
“There are people in my larger family who continue to defend Uribe,” says Ms Pérez, 29, a grassroots political organiser in the city of Medellín, Álvaro Uribe’s political stamping ground.
“They don’t believe he did anything bad,” she explains, saying that theirs is almost an emotional defence. “They believe he is the saviour of the motherland.”
The conflict between those who love and those who loathe Mr Uribe reared its head again earlier this month when Colombia’s Supreme Court ordered the politician to be placed under house arrest while he is under investigation for alleged witness tampering.
More recently, Mr Uribe has been called on by the court to testify in another investigation into his potential connection to three massacres in the 1990s. The probe could settle longstanding allegations linking Mr Uribe to paramilitary death squads.
Old wounds and an uncertain future
The political fallout forced the South American country to once again reckon with an unresolved past and an uncertain future.
And while intense debate around Mr Uribe reopens old wounds, a growing number of young Colombians crave a more forward-looking political discourse.
“The majority of people under 30 years old at this moment haven’t lived through the age before Álvaro Uribe. They were kids. They don’t view Uribe as the saviour of anything,” says Ariel Ávila, the deputy director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation NGO.
“They see him as an old guy, part complicated, part criminal, but famous,” Mr Ávila adds.
Memories of violent times
But 72-year-old Francisco Alzate does remember that time. Mr Alzate grew up in Medellín and vividly recalls the violence that once dominated the streets.
His wife, too, was acutely touched by the decades of armed conflict, forced to flee from her home town of Granada after it was bombed by guerrillas.
“(Uribe) has been the blockade to the violence that has attacked the country,” he said. “In times past we couldn’t even leave Medellín to [go to] other municipalities. … We were totally encircled by the guerrillas.”
Mr Alzate, who collects historical items, has built up an assortment of framed political posters, T-shirts and photos of the ex-president, which line the walls of his home.
Despite the many allegations and investigations into Mr Uribe, Mr Alzate says he has remained loyal to Mr Uribe’s far-right party, the Democratic Centre, because he “brought back peace.” The problem, critics say, is at what humanitarian cost.
Like many of Mr Uribe’s loyal supporters, Mr Alzate reacted to his detention with outrage, calling it “a blow to the Colombian people” even though opinion polls suggest that the majority of Colombians support the court decision.
Polls also suggest that disapproval of the ex-president runs high, in marked contrast to the public support he enjoyed while he was in power from 2002 to 2010.
Many other Colombians, like Isabel Pérez, saw the decision as an opportunity to shift the political discussion forward and stop rehashing the same political battles that have polarised Colombia for decades.
Ms Pérez says that the detention represents not only the waning power of a once larger-than-life political figure, but also a chance for new voices to be heard.
“I think he’s a character that is losing power,” she explains. “And for this person to lose power, it could open space for others. … We’re entering a political discussion in a post-Uribe time.”
Mr Uribe’s supporters and Uribismo, the political current they espouse, once had a firm political hold on the region, but it has slipped in recent years.
In local elections in 2018, his party lost ground countrywide, and in Medellín an independent candidate won the coveted seat of mayor.
The Democratic Centre has struggled with an identity crisis for a long time, explains analyst Ariel Ávila.
After Farc guerrillas demobilised during Colombia’s 2016 peace accords, the party lost its common enemy.
While the Democratic Centre’s candidate, Iván Duque, won the 2018 presidential election, he has been highly unpopular and has not proven to be the forward-looking extension of Mr Uribe’s policies the party faithful had hoped for, says Mr Ávila.
The move away from Uribismo was most acutely felt in November, when hundreds of thousands of Colombians across the country took part in mass protests against President Duque and his political mentor, Álvaro Uribe.
Driven mainly by young students, the protests carried on for more than a month.
Juan Sebastián Rey, 19, is a political organiser for Youth of the Democratic Centre in Medellín, a group which aims to attract younger people to the party.
It is no secret that Uribismo has an age problem, he and other organisers say. To draw younger Colombians to the table, they have had to branch out, using social media to reach new audiences.
They have increasingly focused their conversations around topics like climate change and anti-corruption legislation that spark more unity than division. Those are the topics that Isabel Pérez also cares about.
“If we as Colombians want the country to move forward, we need to be having other discussions,” Mr Rey argues.
But, like Francisco Alzate, he also sees the need to defend his embattled political leader.
“We can’t forget the legacy of President Uribe,” he says. “But we have to also look at the new generation in politics. It doesn’t just have to be young people, it has to be people with new ideas,” he argues.
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