The sympathetic, foreign-agenda-setting media’s editorials asking president Alvaro Uribe to desist from amending the constitution to run for a third term are at best disingenuous and at worst propagandistic.
This wave, of sitting presidents amending constitutions to allow more than two presidential terms, is not exclusive to Latin America. Since 1999, presidents in Namibia, Senegal, Guinea, Togo, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Chad, Tunisia, Uganda, Algeria, Cameroon, Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria, have changed the constitution to allow a third term.
In Latin America this trend was led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and is being followed by Alvaro Uribe. These presidents demagogically argue more time is necessary to carry out their presidential projects and/or reforms. Their followers, thus, promulgated (and continue) that there is no one capable of following through the visionary proposals of biblical proportions – their governments’ religious imagery may somewhat explain the fervent following.
In contrast, other presidents belonging to the pink wave sweeping the region never considered extending their presidential terms. Even when their terms in office were applauded by the world as is the case with Brazil’s Lula da Silva.
In past months foreign media editorials have invited Uribe to desist from seeking a new term. They point out at the catastrophic consequences for the bedrock of democracy: checks and balances. Among these newspapers are The New York Times, Los Angeles Times (twice), The Economist, The Washington Post (twice), Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and even the WSJ’s ultra-conservative Mary Anastasia O’Grady.
Their opposition to Uribe’s undemocratic wishes is commended. Their arguments, however, do not deserve the same praise.
All the articles start by exaggeratedly describing the bliss now found in Colombia after Uribe rescued the country from the depths of anarchy. No one can deny that Colombia’s roads are safer now. But, even though the FARC have been weakened, they still remain capable of killing civilians and politicians besides army personnel. Moreover, the paramilitaries, which together with the army were responsible for more atrocities than the FARC, never totally demobilized and recycled groups have taken their place. Furthermore, violent deaths have increased in many cities this year, mainly due to gang violence. These episodes led a respected NGO to claim that Uribe’s “Democratic Security” had reached a ceiling.
The editorials then describe the menace that a new re-election would signify to Colombian institutions. This argument, however, would have been valid five years ago when the first re-election was being debated; Uribe now controls over eight institutions. The Inspector General, a member of the Opus Dei as Uribe, has demonstrated his partiality in multiple occasions. Now Uribe is intimidating the Supreme Court to elect Camilo Ospina, a former Defense Minister under Uribe with no experience in penal law, as Prosecutor General – Ospina authored the secret ministerial directive that contributed to the army’s extrajudicial killings. Thus, congressmen investigated for links with paramilitaries and government officials accused of bribery would be dutifully absolved.
After praising Uribe and his war policies the editorials brazenly fail to mention, or downplay, his government’s dozens of cases of corruption: Para-politics, Yidis-politics, extrajudicial killings, Carimagua, DAS illegal wiretapping, free trade zones given to Uribe’s sons, notaries scandal, humanitarian crisis, and Agro Ingreso Seguro, among many others. Abuses of power are also conveniently ignored: allowing U.S. troops to use seven military bases, hindering the trial of soldiers behind extrajudicial killings, interfering in the trial of a colonel behind the disappearance of 11 people during the Palace of Justice siege, framing a Navy Admiral, and derailing investigations on the DAS scandal.
It is undeniable that Uribe has managed to free the roads of guerrilla so car-owning Colombians can enjoy the countryside and the millions of peasants displaced due to violence can safely reach the cities. It is undeniable that Colombia’s Gross Domestic Product and Foreign Direct Investment have increased drastically, thus only benefiting the land-owning elite and the multinationals, while the ordinary Jose will receive barely 3 percent increase in the minimum wage. It is undeniable that an increas in Colombia’s military spending has contributed to weakening the guerrillas, but it has come at the expense of sound social policies without which there will be a perpetual internal conflict.
Alvaro Uribe deserves some appreciation from the agenda-setting media for resolutely combating the FARC, while deviously selling out the country to the U.S. and multinational companies. But, blatantly ignoring the vastly negative effects that Uribe’s presidency has brought to Colombia is no more than applauding the misery caused to millions.