Friday, April 22, 2005

Uribe: Seeking a Second Term

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe believes he is the savior of his Andean country ransacked by 40 years of civil war. As Rachel Van Dongen reports in The New Republic, Uribe is seeking a constitutional amendment that would permit him to seek another term. Uribe is wonderously popular in Colombia, largely owing to his militant policies aimed at destroying the FARC's left-wing insurgency.

Momentum seems to be behind him as Van Dongen reports:
The reelection proposal has passed the Colombian congress, but it faces several Constitutional Court challenges before Uribe can be on the ballot in 2006. Some are predicting the amendment may be disallowed, in which case Uribe may mount a write-in campaign.
Naturally, Uribe's attempt to change the constitution has more to do with his own self-interest, staying in power, than giving the people what they want.
Uribe and company argue that reelection is a crucial means to continue the president's promising fight against "narco-terrorists" (both the farc and AUC -- right-wing paramilitaries -- are heavily involved in drug trafficking). But, the way the amendment was cleverly written, it would benefit Uribe without helping to strengthen Colombia's institutions. Indeed, the provision prohibits sitting governors and mayors from challenging him for president. That clause was aimed at Bogotá Mayor Lucho Gárzon, the most popular political figure next to the president. "The reelection bill was made for Uribe," said Fernando Giraldo, the dean of political science at Bogotá's Javeriana University. "Reelection isn't a response to a maturation of the democratic system, but the result of political circumstances." Furthermore, the bill is designed to expire in 2014, four years after Uribe would finish a second term. If Uribe really believed that two-term presidents were a way of fortifying the central government and defeating the FARC, he would have fought to permanently change the constitution.
Yet he didn't. And despite all the accolades showered upon Uribe from Washington, D.C., Uribe is more interested in destroying the FARC than destroying the AUC, which has historically strong ties to the Colombian military, is flush with cocaine trafficking money, and is disproportionately responsible for gross human rights abuses. As Human Rights Watch recently stated to the 61st Session of the U.N. Commission for Human Rights:
Units of the armed forces have historically maintained close ties to paramilitary groups, and have been implicated in the commission of atrocities in collusion with such groups. However, the government has yet to take credible action to break these ties. Impunity, particularly with respect to high-level military officials, remains the norm.

Impunity is also a serious problem in relation to atrocities committed by paramilitary groups. These groups are currently in demobilization negotiations with the Colombian government, but have been blatantly flouting their cease-fire declaration. Notably, the government has yet to put in place an effective legal framework to dismantle the paramilitaries’ complex structures and ensure accountability for paramilitary atrocities. As a result, there is a real risk that the current demobilization process will leave the underlying structures of these violent groups intact, their illegally acquired assets untouched, and their abuses unpunished.
The FARC are admittedly bad, but the AUC are worse and it's clear whose side President Uribe is on. Another Uribe term would just extend that right-wing culture of impunity for another four years. Colombia should stay within its constitutional bounds and Uribe should respect that decision.