Alvaro Uribe will be President of Colombia again in 2010 despite the fact he is surrounded by fools, the country’s most remarkable ‘uribista’ senator, Armando Benedetti, told Colombia Reports. The country’s opposition will not stand a chance in the elections and are on their way to sink themselves, he says.
Benedetti is a curious phenomenon in a polarized country. He is a costeño moving comfortably in Bogota, and he’s an outspoken liberal in Colombia’s most conservative coalition in decades.
The senator was born in Barranquilla, son of a Minister father. After completing a journalism masters in Bogota he briefly worked as a journalist before entering politics through the Liberal Party, where he first assisted Eduardo Verano de la Rosa before representing the Liberals in the Bogota city council.
Considering his past and liberal tendencies, it is remarkable that Benedetti is now considered one of the most fanatic supporters of the right-wing President Alvaro Uribe in Congress.
Benedetti laughs hard when told this and acknowledges it immediately. He describes himself as a defender of a “liberal philosophy”, fighting for “dignity, liberty and autonomy” of the people. “Respect as well. But that doesn’t exist in this country,” he says. “You have to do politics with compassion for the people. The state has to make it possible for the people to empower themselves. How I would like to live in a country like Holland or Sweden! There is more conscience of the importance of human rights and civility. They are more able to crush their instincts.” He laughs again.
Benedetti is highly critical about the human rights situation in his country: “Not many politicians have contributed to a human rights policy. There has been no apology to the victims of the violence in Colombia. The families of the victims of false positives (in which the army executes civilians and later presents them as guerrillas killed in combat) have demanded apologies and the minister didn’t do it. I cannot stand that.”
The senator agrees with criticism towards the United States drugs policy. The whole war on drugs doesn’t seem to have worked, he says. “The fumigations didn’t produce results and neither did Plan Colombia. I would be in favor of legalization. But we cannot say that. We would be the pariahs of the world!”
Monster in politics
Colombia’s President wouldn’t be happy to hear these statements and the senator acknowledges this, but says “I admire Uribe.” He explains: “Because of the president’s personality. His love for the country, his tireless work. He is a monster in politics, he isn’t favoring the jet-set’s interests.” Now Benedetti smiles ironically; he realizes that this sounds strange due to the Agro Ingreso Seguro scandal, in which rich landowners received huge agriculture subsidies at the cost of poor farmers, “a perverse state policy in which subsidies are given to the rich in order to create jobs, but it’s a lie,” he says. “The campesinos become day laborers.”
The media has accused the government of subsidizing rich families in return of support for the President’s re-election. Benedetti denies this. “They support Uribito,” he says, referring to former agriculture minister Andrés Felipe Arias, who is broadly held responsible for the Agro Ingreso Seguro program.
The scandals evolving around the Uribe administration are not the fault of the President, but the people that surround him. “For one reason or another, the good advisers have gone. He is surrounded by silly ministers. Yes, I hope you quote me on this, all the ministers are fools.”
‘We act as notaries’
Benedetti is in favor of re-election, “but it is not something we push through. It is for the voters to choose. We act as notaries, the people decide.”
Many complaints have been made regarding irregularities in the processes to obtain signatures from the people in order to organize a referendum, to determine whether voters wish to re-elect Uribe for the second time. There have also been accusations of votes being bought in Congress to approve a referendum law. “They don’t have any evidence,” Benedetti says. “It’s nonsense. We want to change the rules on a basis of the rules. 1.5 million signatures were needed to present the referendum law in Congress and we got 5 million.”
About the increasing international criticism of Uribe’s re-election ambitions and what is referred to as his ‘authoritarian’ style, Benedetti says: “They are countries that have a developed civil life and politics. They don’t understand our countries in Latin America. I would say Brazil’s president Lula is doing a better job than France’s Sarkozy,” he grins.
“Uribe is not a dictator,” Benedetti stresses. “The three powers are seperated. The members of the Supreme Court are chosen by the other magistrates, the Inspector General is chosen by the State Council. The army is not involved in politics. There is press freedom. In spite of the scandals that are publicized, no journalist is threatened. The opposition can travel to whatever region.”
Benedetti is almost certain that the referendum will pass and Uribe will be re-elected for a third term. However, he warns, “something can always happen. The Constitutional Court might give in to the pressure to declare the initiative unconstitutional.”
According to the coalition Senator, the coalition is in no way able to assume leadership of Colombia. “They are not politicians. They don’t exist. They only attack the government on laws and rules. They don’t make proposals to make a different kind of country. They are going to sink themselves.”
Benedetti doesn’t answer the question of whether Uribe will be able to beat the FARC if he is re-elected. What the President will do after 2010 is “pay more attention to human rights and improve international relations.”