Uribe defends Arias against corruption allegations

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Friday defended former Agricultural Minister Andres Felipe Arias’ subsidies scheme (AIS), following the U.S. State Department 2009 Human Rights Report’s damning criticism of the program.

“AIS is the best scheme that Colombian has produced in the agricultural sector… There were only ten instances of people taking advantage [of the scheme]… AIS shouldn’t be discredited,” Uribe said.

The State Department report released Thursday, condemns Arias for his “implication” in the scheme – in which the government granted agricultural funds to certain companies and affluent Colombian families, when the program was intended to help poor farmers.

Pre-presidential candidate Arias Friday called the report a “stew”, insinuating that the U.S. has not done its own research into allegations against him.

Uribe took the opportunity to praise presidential hopeful Arias, dubbed “Uribito” or little Uribe, who created the AIS scheme.

“Minister Arias is one of the most outstanding people in the country. He is the best agricultural minister that Colombia has had in many years. He gave the country the best scheme. He is a man of integrity and a great leader,” Uribe said.

Uribe added that Uribito is a leader “of the present and of the future of the fatherland.”

The president Thursday called Arias “a useful young leader for the country who cannot be wasted,” but stressed that this was all he the support he had given for the candidate, either publicly or privately.y.

Arias is a pre-presidential candidate and is yet to officially announce his candidacy for Colombia’s presidential elections in May.

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