When he was a kid, Attorney General Mario Iguarán used to go with his grandfather to the church in their southern town of Buga, where Colombians say a large crucifix can cure illnesses like ulcers and blindness.
It's a fitting memory that the chief prosecutor, 46 but still baby-faced, says he's clinging to these days: It reminds him of the virtual miracle he needs to cure Colombia of its own ills.
Iguarán's office currently has cases pending against several influential politicians, as well as former and current military and intelligence officials, for cooperating with illegal right-wing paramilitary groups -- the country's biggest scandal in years.
The cases are threatening the government of President Alvaro Uribe, and undermining the chances for U.S. approval of a free-trade agreement with Colombia. They also affect a Bush administration proposal for a $600 million U.S. aid package for Bogotá's fight against drug traffickers and rebels.
Congressional hearings in Colombia that began this week threaten to widen the investigative scope even further to include the president and some of his top aides.
The deluge of cases has left Iguarán exhausted and exhilarated all at once.
''I didn't expect this, but I should have expected this,'' he told The Miami Herald in an interview in his apartment in northern Bogotá. ``Because I knew that I was committed to this whole process of opening up cases and unearthing the truth in everything.''
The truth in Colombia has always been a moving target. Half a century of often brutal war between various political and guerrilla factions has thwarted even the most earnest prosecutors. Heroes to some are villains to others. Iguarán's job is to separate the two, a task made even harder by the fact that the war continues apace, and that his efforts may undermine the very government he serves.
The scandal began because of the government's own actions -- a tumultuous peace process with the paramilitaries that long fought leftist guerrillas, often by murdering suspected guerrilla supporters and sometimes with the help of military personnel and politicians.
ERUPTED INTO CRISIS
Since 2004, more than 31,000 paramilitary fighters have demobilized, and their principal leaders have surrendered. The leaders, now in prison, are giving confessions they hope will help reduce their jail sentences -- and that Iguarán's office hopes will clear up unresolved cases.
The testimonies, however, along with the seizure of computers and other files held by paramilitary leaders, have erupted into a political crisis threatening the Uribe government.
Initially, the Supreme Court created a special investigative branch to look into the alleged connections between government officials and paramilitaries. But after several officials resigned to escape the court's jurisdiction, the burden fell on the attorney general's office.
Not surprisingly, as the list of the accused has grown, so has Iguarán's list of enemies. He has been attacked for allegedly hiring a witch doctor to help him solve cases, and allowing a lawyer with ties to a drug trafficker to attend his swearing-in ceremony.
Both allegations turned out to be false, but Iguarán says they were part of a campaign to undermine his work.
''I've resisted stating it publicly, but it's time to say that what I'm seeing are dark forces'' trying to thwart his investigations, he told The Miami Herald, without specifying who might be trying to undermine him.
Iguarán says he's not fazed. Instead, he seems to be plowing ahead.
Earlier this month, his office leaked a video to a local magazine of a former police and military intelligence officer who said the police executed several survivors of a guerrilla takeover of the Palace of Justice in 1985. The video promises to open up wounds that many officials hoped had healed following the incident, which left more than 100 dead, including 11 Supreme Court justices, when the army stormed the palace and it burned to the ground.
Iguarán also has reopened sensitive cases like that of Chiquita Brands International, which admitted to the U.S. Justice Department recently that it paid protection money to the paramilitaries.
Iguarán also has charged active-duty military officers with murder and working with paramilitaries, a first in Colombian history.
But the biggest cases involve some of the president's closest advisors, including his former handpicked intelligence chief, Jorge Noguera.
Iguarán credits some of Uribe's policies for pushing the investigations as far as they have come and says that the president supports him.
But the prosecution of some of Uribe's inner circle has clearly put the attorney general at odds with the presidency. The presidency has hired at least two people that Iguarán had fired, and the media in Colombia have reported that Noguera's attorney met with Uribe's advisors to discuss his legal strategy.
The dimensions of the scandal have caught Iguarán by ''surprise,'' he told The Miami Herald in a rare display of trepidation.
''It's an anxiety that I feel that could end up turning into anguish,'' he said.
Still, in times of turmoil, Iguarán says he turns to the south, toward the church in Buga with a mighty crucifix that performs miracles.
''I go there whenever I get the chance,'' he said. ``Unfortunately, that's not too often, because I'm so busy.''