<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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“A Gentleman Goes Twice”

Dirty Tricks and Lies in Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s Bid for Reelection


By Laura del Castillo Matamoros
Narco News Editorial Columnist

February 14, 2005

Nothing is so dangerous as letting the same citizen remain in power for a long time. The people become accustomed to obeying him, and he becomes accustomed to commanding them, and that is the origin of encroachment and tyranny.

– Simón Bolívar
Congress of Angostura

Everything seems to indicate that Colombia will have its Bushito [2] for a while. Thanks to a proposal pushed forward by the oh-so-respectable pro-Uribe wing of Congress, and approved by a congressional majority last November 30, Alvaro Uribe can be reelected in the next presidential race, in 2006. It is a decision celebrated by the Colombian ultra-right, approved by the Bush administration (the bigger Bush, that is), and received with open arms by the most elite of the country’s upper class, the most mediocre of its middle class, and the most naïve of its lower class. But it is a dangerous decision, fundamentally, and more than that, an illegitimate one.

“How could it be dangerous?” will wonder Uribe’s fans (who even had their own club, called “Colombians for the Reelection,” which collected signatures to support the proposal in Congress). How, they ask, if the only thing he has done during his term has been to “work, work, work” (as he often points out in his speeches, referring to the “efficiency” of his administration) to guarantee the Colombian people’s security, to end corruption, to get rid of those terrorist guerrillas who want to destroy the country. To this, of course, they would add the tired argument about the president’s popularity and the wide acceptance he enjoys in the polls. According to the current widespread Uribista fever, the president has magically transformed Colombia into some kind of wonderland.

“How could it be illegitimate?” will wonder the officials who occupy high public office, and have shown themselves to be very interested in the idea. How, they ask, if, according to people like presidential advisor Fabio Echeverri, in many countries – such as, for instance, the United States, France, or Germany, where it has been legal since their first constitutions were written – reelections have occurred without incident, and have not led the way to abuses of power or anything like that. To the contrary, the possibility of reelection stimulates “democracy,” in the sense that through it, it becomes possible to reward a president for a good performance, and allow long-term projects to be seen through to completion. Reelecting Uribe, they say, would be a favor to the country, allowing him to continue his impeccable (or implacable?) administration.

But what Uribe’s fervent followers don’t understand (or prefer not to know) is that he is not exactly the model of virtue he has appeared to be to many, thanks to, among other things, the very capable job of propaganda that the mass media have done to improve his image. And what the government officials don’t see (or choose not to see) is that the problem with presidential reelection is not that it is good or bad as such, but that in Colombia’s case it was imposed by Uribe and his friends in Congress, by force, through a reform of Article 197 of the Constitution of 1991 [3]. This process ended up becoming more of a “counter-reform,” full of irregularities, no-so-holy alliances, and hidden intentions.

The Flower’s Venom

But before continuing any debate about the issue of reelection, it would be worth asking, what made Uribe, the enlightened one, suddenly so desirous of extending his mandate for four more years? He explained it in a radio interview last April, with his characteristic tender demagogy: “It is important that our country, which has suffered so much from the weakness of the state and is now beginning to find a new way, not think that this is a ‘one-day flower.’”

Strange. Because in 2002, when this flower was just arriving at his new post, he proclaimed his opposition to the idea of immediate reelections. What’s more, he prominently proclaimed, perhaps to show off his supposed respect for democracy, that reelections “lend themselves to corruption and political intrigue.” What made him change his mind just when he had two years left in his term? Was it the desire to renew his invaluable commitment as the divine savior of the country? Was it his philanthropic intentions to “continue protecting” the Colombian people?

Or are there other interests involved? Because, not to doubt the nobility of the president (in fact, since he has been in power, doubting has been almost a crime in Colombia), but it doesn’t quite seem like a coincidence that President Uribe is suddenly interested in extending his rule, just as peace negotiations with paramilitary groups are finally happening, and just as the original Plan Colombia is set to expire, with the United States, so fascinated lately with sequels (Bush II, Gulf War II…) ready to launch its second phase. Which would mean even more financial support from Washington for President Uribe’s “democratic security” policy. The possibility also exists for future Congressional approval of another unfortunately celebrated creation of Machiavellian Uribista thought: the “Antiterrorist Statue,” which puts the already trampled respect for human rights in Colombia in even graver danger, with government’s express authorization.

It should now be obvious, kind readers, why Washington signed on so enthusiastically to the idea of the reelection. You can see this enthusiasm in recent statements by U.S. Ambassador William Wood, who focused the issue on the continuity of the struggle against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC in its Spanish initials): “The FARC are nearly 40 years old, while the presidential term is four years, or ten percent of that. That for the FARC is like one day out of the week. This group has always used the tactic that, when there have been strong and popular presidents like Uribe, they just wait for the next one. That is one aspect that the Colombian people, who must make the decision about the reelection themselves, should take into account.”

And if there is one thing that the Bush administration needs right now, it is allies from the ultra-right in Latin America, where more and more countries are opting to elect left or center-left governments. Uribe is becoming something like the White House’s loyal lapdog. He acts like Bush, he talks like Bush. In fact, not long ago, he claimed that in Colombia there was no “armed conflict,” but rather “a terrorist threat.” Doesn’t this rhetoric sound just a bit familiar? If Uribe does get reelected, he would go from being a geisha to something more: a clone. And besides, who knows how much advise Uribe has taken from a certain voice of experience on getting reelected? (I think you all know which voice I’m talking about.)

The Ends Justify the Means

But the implications of Uribe’s possible reelection are not the worst part. The worst is the way in which Uribe made his holy will fulfilled in Congress, passing over Colombian law established in the constitution of ’91, the most progressive and democratic constitution (on paper, at least) the country has ever had. It was really rather easy for Uribe to get the members of Congress to approve, practically en masse (after numerous debates in committees and plenary sessions that went on throughout last year), the repeal of the article of the constitution that prohibited reelection.

And so, with the pro-Uribe wing already a majority, the president had no problem buying almost the entire congress in one way or another. He came to collect favors owed to him here and there, and promised future political positions to relatives of certain congressmen. He quieted the tantrums others were throwing over the proposal by offering them various political privileges, and had no trouble authorizing the reelection of mayors and governors as well (many of them being friends of relatives of members of Congress). And it’s not just me saying this – it was reported in the major commercial media.

This was all carried out by the same president who has always presented himself as resolved to combat “corruption and political intrigue.” Which means that reelection in Colombia, whether public officials like it or not, is illegitimate. Most would agree that offering political appointments in return for favors could easily be considered “influence peddling,” defined as a crime under article 599 of the Colombian Penal Code.

In fact, many congressmen who approved the reelection received, in return, the naming of their close family members as ambassadors, such as in the case of Carlos Holmes Trujillo, bother of Senator José Renán Trujillo, and that of the Colombian ambassador to France, the son of Senator Enrique Gómez Hurtado, famous in congress for his reactionary positions on verious issues.

The only congressmen and congresswomen who the president was not able to buy off form a minority opposition, hailing from a diverse group of left and center-left parties. Among them are Antonio Navarro from the M-19 Democratic Alliance, Piedad Córdoba from the Liberal Party, Gustavo Petro from the Independent Democratic Pole, and Carlos Gaviria Díaz from the Democratic Alternative. They are all trying to come to some kind of agreement, with the goal of forming a political alliance that can present a single presidential candidate in 2006 to run against Uribe. Gaviria seems to be the favorite among them, and with his party’s backing launched his pre-candidacy on November 4.

There are more than enough reasons to create not just one, but all the coalitions in the world to avoid a double portion of Uribe. Why? Because, I’ll say it again to any fan of his who may be reading, reelecting Uribe is dangerous.

Better Days?

But so that those sectors of the middle class (generally made up of “social climbers”) and of the upper classes (generally made up of ranchers, industrialists, businessmen and high society folks who are simply trying to safeguard their property and wealth) don’t get too upset, I want to say that I too believe that if the president manages to get reelected, and governs until 2010, things will start to get better…

Yes, things will get better for the paramilitaries, who will be able to actively participate in politics without any restraints; they will get better for the armed forces and for the police, who will get bigger budgets for the war and more latitude to continue carrying out mass arrests (aimed at finding culprits that don’t exist but which justify the “struggle against terrorism”), to conduct illegal searches and seizures, to forget about their supposed “authority” when paramilitary squads enter some remote area of the country and massacre entire towns, in order to label killings of civilians as “military errors.”

Things will get better for war criminals, who in their schizophrenic urge to wipe out all possible questioning of the state, have no patience for talk of human rights and, just like the president, consider non-governmental human rights organizations as “mouthpieces for terrorism.” Better to just eliminate these people from the scene and do humanity a favor, no?

Things will get better, undoubtedly, for the transnational corporations and business associations, who – aside from opening the doors even further for themselves with the signing of the Free Trade Agreement (known as the TLC in its Spanish initials) with the United States – would finally be free of the Colombian labor unions, who could be completely, systematically eliminated by 2007.

Things will get better for the big industrial conglomerates and the formerly public, privatized companies – during Uribe’s second term unemployment will surely rise to 89.9 percent of the population, and they will be able to easily find cheap labor willing to work longer and longer hours for less and less pay.

Things will get better for the big foreign private defense corporations and for the industries that produce glyphosate and other chemicals, as we can predict that by that time there will not be a single rural area in the country not being properly fumigated.

Quality of life will improve. The government won’t have to invest a single peso of state funds in government programs supposedly aimed at covering the basics, in health, education, and nutrition, for the least fortunate sectors of the population. In 2008 there will be fewer and fewer poor people in Colombia. Many will have died of starvation, owing to their inability to obtain the basic basket of goods for their families, as, by that time, those items will be taxed at seventy or eighty percent of their value. As such, there will be fewer mouths to feed.

Things will get better for the United States government, which, by that time, will probably have its own representation in the Colombian Congress, and will have set up Guantánamo-style jails in every part of the country – well guarded and administrated by U.S. marines just back from Iraq – in order to lock up all the guerrillas, or those that seem to be guerrillas, that is, the community leaders and activists.

And, undoubtedly, things will get better for Uribe, who by 2007 will believe himself to have become some kind of demigod, and will be thinking about his next strategy, to create a law that will let him become president for life, and then his children, and his children’s children…

Yes, everything will definitely get better… And there are still those who still don’t have faith in our own little Fujimorito. They must be crazy!

Notes

[1] “A gentleman goes twice” is a popular Latin American expression denoting courtesy to one’s guests. One would say it to encourage guests to feel comfortable taking seconds on food.

[2] “Little Bush” – a popular nickname for Uribe among his opponents.

[3] In Colombia, the Constitution of 1886 allowed the immediate reelection of presidents. However, those leaders who repeated their terms became such aweful experiences for the country that many political and social forces, who met to draft the Constitution of 1991, decided that this mechanism should be prohibited. It was considered to foment clientism and the existence of democratic dictatorships.

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