January 25, 2009
President Barack Obama in his inaugural address committed his administration to following the rule of law. No doubt the rule of law greatly needs to be followed in the United States, after 8 years of the Bush – Cheney Administration’s authoritarian actions in undermining the laws of this land, including international treaty obligations such as the Geneva Conventions.
It is also vital, however, for the Obama Administration to take into account the manner and extent of compliance with the rule of law by governments in countries with which the United States has diplomatic and commercial relations. If the rule of law is sacrosanct for the new President and his Administration, it must be given importance in this country’s relations with other countries.
This consideration is particularly important in the case of Colombia. If more than lip service is to be given to the support for the “rule of law”, our government must critique the manner and extent to which our diplomatic and trading partners are acting in accord with the precepts of the rule of law. In the case of Colombia, evidence of the undermining of the rule of law and of its irrelevance for President Uribe and his associates in government is widespread and obvious, if our leaders choose to look carefully at Mr. Uribe’s rule.
They should look, first, at Mr. Uribe’s re-election in 2006. He procured a change in a constitutional provision limiting a President to one four-year term by bribing through his associates in government a Colombian Congresswoman, Yidis Medina, to change her vote against re-election to for it in return for the promise of wealth. Is bribery to retain office consistent with the rule of law? Of course not.
Next we can look at President Uribe’s Administration’s welcome for a paramilitary hit-man called “Job” and a representative of narco-paramilitary leader Diego Murillo (“Don Berna”), who entered the Presidential Palace through a special entrance reserved for diplomats and important visitors. Is this welcoming of illegal paramiliitaries and drug-traffickers into one of the highest and most sacred places of the Colombian polity consistent with the rule of law? In no way.
And what of President Uribe’s efforts to eliminate the Constitutional Court and place his cronies in positions of authority in Colombia’s Supreme Court ? These moves are not consistent with the rule of law.
The Colombian Constitution of 1991, a very progressive document in many respects, gives indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombian communities special rights to the lands they have occupied and worked for many years. President Uribe’s Administration has authored laws and policies which would take away lands from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and provide them to multi-national businesses and to agro-exporters planting African palm and other export-oriented crops. The taking of lands has been achieved by the encroachment of illegal paramilitaries, who have forced literally millions of Colombians off their lands with support from the Colombian Army. Is this consistent with the rule of law? Absolutely not.
Revelations about the conduct about the Colombian military since 2006 have shown that in response to a decree establishing monetary and other rewards for killing guerrillas ( called “positives”), Colombian Army units have kidnapped poor unemployed youths and transported them to areas remote from their home areas and then murdered them and presented them as “guerrillas killed in combat”, when they were neither guerrillas not killed in combat. Is this phenomenon, known as “false positives'” in Colombia, consistent with the rule of law? No, it is a perversion of the rule of law.
When President Uribe’s head of the DAS (Colombia’s FBI), Jorge Noguera, was charged with having aided paramilitaries, Mr Uribe honored him with a diplomatic posting to Milan, Italy. When former Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio completed his term, during which he had facilitated paramilitary impunity and fired the head of the human rights unit of the Attorney General’s office for ordering the detention of General Rito Alejo del Rio–whose ties with paramilitaries are clear for anyone who looks at Del Rio’s military career– President Uribe appointed him as Colombia’s Ambassador to Mexico. Do these appointments reflect respect for the rule of law ? Unquestionably not.
Clearly Alvaro Uribe Velez has demonstrated time and again his lack of commitment to the rule of law. If President Obama is serious about his own commitment to the rule of law he must recognize these very serious failings in President Uribe ‘s governing of Colombia. Mr. Obama needs to review and revise the unconditional support the Bush administration gave to the deeply flawed presidency of Alvaro Uribe. He needs to establish policies which will make aid and support dependent upon the protection and advancement of the rights of the common man and woman in Colombia, including the peasant, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. To do less would be to come up short on Mr. Obama’s commitment to the rule of law.
John I. Laun