Changes for Uribe’s re-election slimmer than ever

The surprise failure this week of a bill in Colombia’s Congress aimed
at allowing President Álvaro Uribe a third term in 2014 revealed
fractures in
his coalition. His last change for re-election is through the recently
held referendum, but support within the coalition is crumbling.

The measure, voted down on Wednesday, would have allowed the popular
Uribe to run for office again in 2014, after sitting out four years
from 2010 when his current term ends.

Until its defeat, the bill was seen as an easy political maneuver by
the president to preserve his already vast influence over a country
beset by 44 years of guerrilla war.

He could still clinch a referendum vote to allow him to run in 2010,
but lawmakers say Wednesday’s legislative defeat shows Uribe may not
have the support he needs to secure another presidential bid.

“The chances of re-election are now slimmer than they were a week
ago,” said lower House member Santiago Castro from the Conservative
party, which is in Uribe’s coalition but has begun to resist the
re-election effort.

Coalition party Cambio Radical is also breaking ranks.

“Cambio Radical has shown its cards and is now clearly against
re-election,” Castro said. “And the Conservative party is toying with
the idea of having its own candidate in 2010.”

But the combative Uribe, whose father was killed in a botched rebel
kidnapping in 1983, is keenly aware that no other politician in the
country rivals him in terms of electability.

Uribe, whose supporters in Congress amended the constitution to
allow him a second run for office in 2006, is the White House’s main
ally in South America.

Local lawmakers are now reviewing a proposed referendum on rewriting
the constitution again to allow Uribe’s reelection in 2010, and it
could go before voters next year.

But many of his backers in Washington and on Wall Street shy from
supporting the idea of another change in law aimed at keeping him in
power. Critics say a third Uribe term would hollow-out democratic
institutions and put too much power in the president’s hands.

Known for his messianic style, Uribe is the only Colombian president
in memory to have taken a hands-on approach to security, ordering the
army to attack leftist rebels, push them off the highways they once
controlled and out of cities.

The results have attracted record investment and kept Uribe’s
popularity above 70 percent despite a series of scandals in which
security forces have committed human rights abuses and scores of
Congress members, most from his coalition, are accused of having links
to right-wing death squads.

Lower House member Constantino Rodriguez, of coalition member party
Alas Equipo Colombia, said some Uribe supporters are slowing
re-election legislation in order to promote their own party candidates
or demand pork barrel spending projects.

He called the effort “Plan Tortuga” or the “Tortoise Plan.

Given Uribe’s popularity, analysts say any candidate to win in 2010
would have to adhere to his market-friendly economic policies and hard
stance against the insurgency.

But left-leaning opponents are smelling blood after Uribe’s
legislative defeat this week and after the U.S. embassy said this month
that U.S. aid might be curtailed due to the international financial

“Uribe’s era is coming to an end,” said Gustavo Petro, a Senator from the opposition Polo Democratico party.

“His political model is showing its weak side, in terms of lack of
respect for human rights, and his economic model, based on dependence
on the United States, is also coming to a close,” Petro told Reuters.

Uribe fired 27 army officers on Wednesday after a probe implicated
them in the deaths of more than a dozen young men who disappeared from
their homes and were later found dead.

Rights groups see an increasing trend of officers trying to
artificially improve their statistics by ordering the deaths of
civilians and counting them as killed in combat. (Reuters)

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