A Failed Presidency; A New Beginning?
Next Saturday, August 7, 2010, the Presidential term of Alvaro Uribe Velez ends. His years in office, frequently celebrated in U.S. national news media (among others, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CBS News, and the Washington Post editorial page) as a great success, have in truth been a spectacular failure.
Consider the following 10 examples of Uribe’s rule: 1) during his 8 years in office the number of internally displaced people has multiplied by at least 300%, reaching nearly 4.5 million people, 10% of Colombia’s population, due largely to attacks by illegal paramilitary forces in frequent collaboration with Colombian Army units; 2) thousands of civilians have been killed, including many through military murders of civilian youths who were then presented as guerrillas killed in combat, when they were neither guerrillas nor killed in combat —Uribe’s answer a few days ago to the finding of common graves next to a military base in la Macarena was to praise the military; 3) Uribe obtained approval in the Colombian Congress for his re-election in 2006, contrary to the provisions of the 1991 Constitution, by having members of his Presidential Palace staff arrange a bribe of Congresswoman Yidis Medina (who went to prison, though those who offered the bribe were not tried) and he authorized illegal wiretaps of the Supreme Court, opposition political leaders and human rights lawyers while converting the DAS (essentially Colombia’s F.B.I.) into his personal spy agency; 4) Under Uribe the Colombian economy grew, but unemployment increased; 5) Uribe dismantled the Social Security system and converted health care into a private, for-profit system, making a mockery of any concept of a “social safety net” for poor Colombians; 6) Uribe facilitated multinational corporations’ entry into Colombia on extremely favorable terms, effectively reducing the country’s share of the mineral wealth these companies take out of the earth and send abroad; 7) his agricultural policies favored large-scale producers for export, as he congratulated large landowners who utilized police and military forces to remove peasants from lands they rightly held, as in the community of Las Pavas in Bolivar Department; 8) he went hat in hand to Washington, D.C. to seek approval by the U.S. Congress of a bilateral Free Trade Agreement which if enacted will most surely decimate the Colombian countryside, as small-scale producers of food crops will be unable to compete with duty-free imported agricultural products from the United States; 9) he approved continued use of aerial spraying in coca-growing regions in southern Colombia, even though the spraying has decimated peasants’ food crops and caused health problems for people and farm animals; and 10) he opened 7 Colombian bases to U.S. military use and ratified the immunity from prosecution in Colombia of U.S. military personnel who commit crimes there, whether they are related to military operations or not.
Does this suggest a successful Presidency for Colombians? Of course not. Why, then, has Uribe been so celebrated in the U.S.? George W. Bush, near the end of his failed Presidency, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Alvaro Uribe, a tremendous embarrassment for those of us in this country who believe in honesty, oppose corruption and celebrate life as sacrosanct. And President Barack Obama, who in his campaign for President criticized the proposed Free Trade Agreement, citing Colombia’s failure to protect labor leaders from being murdered, recently expressed his hope the pact will be approved. He suggested it may provide some additional jobs for people in this country, even though murder of labor union leaders continues unabated in Colombia.
There is something else at play here. I believe the U.S. government has shielded the Uribe Administration from criticism partly because it has been so openly favorable to the U.S.—allowing privileged access of U.S.-based multinational corporations to mineral deposits, including oil; establishing very favorable terms for foreign investment, profit remittances and intellectual property rights; and opening the 7 bases to the U.S., including allowing the construction of a new runway at the Palanquero base which will permit its use by large cargo planes capable of carrying rapid deployment forces to all but the southernmost tip of South America. This base agreement is understandably viewed with suspicion by most other countries in South America, who quite rightly see the U.S. as seeking to reassert its influence over what for so long the U.S. has considered its backyard. In addition, by providing the support and assistance it has to President Uribe and his government, the U.S. government may have broken laws of this country, and it may still be doing so.
It is time to clear the air! One hopes the new Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, will reduce the extraordinary level of corruption in the highest spheres of the Colombian government and will, as he has promised, preside over a government characterized by its transparency. And we can hope that the so-called Free Trade Agreement will be re-examined and modified to provide needed protections to Colombians, or will be scuttled altogether. And is it too much to expect that the deleterious aerial fumigation will end? Hopefully not. And finally we can hope that President Obama’s government will recognize and support the efforts of other South American governments to form a South American organization to protect and advance their rightful and reasonable interests and will abandon the notion that the U.S. has the right to determine what plans and policies are developed by Latin American governments.
John I. Laun
August 3, 2010
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