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Colombia - Page 4
Rise to the Presidency
met Álvaro Uribe in November 1996 in his Medellin office.
The local anti-kidnapping cops had arrested a German agent at Medellin's
airport as he attempted to spirit a retired German executive's wife
out of the country. The agent had allegedly brokered a ransom of
more than $1.2 million with ELN rebels gaining himself a
Uribe wanted to make an example of this agent. His outrage was understandable.
Leftist rebels had killed Uribe's father during a 1983 kidnap attempt.
Giving the rebels no quarter, Uribe was also hoping to discourage
the lucrative enterprise of abducting foreigners.
As provincial governor, Álvaro Uribe Velez was an outspoken
supporter of citizen self-defense units. That was five years
ago. Uribe is now Colombia's president.
morning I visited Uribe, police had learned of an assassination
plot against his wife and rerouted her motorcade, I was told. During
the 2002 presidential campaign, Uribe survived unscathed a bombing
that killed three people and battered his armored car.
say Uribe made a Faustian deal with right-wing paramilitaries while
governor of Antioquia. And journalists have noted that Uribe's father
was friends with the late Don Fabio Ochoa, a fellow show-horse breeder
and father to a clutch of Medellin cartel cocaine traffickers.
no one has produced any evidence directly linking Uribe either to
right-wing paramilitary atrocities or drug trafficking. And no one
has suggested Uribe had anything to do with the assassination of
Jesus Valle, for which two paramilitaries were convicted in absentia
election in May was a clear sign of desperation among Colombians.
The upper classes may even be willing to countenance a dirty war
to rid themselves of the rebels. Colombia's landowner-backed paramilitaries
have meanwhile expanded their radius of action, with a wink and
a nod from the military, while the vast majority of arrest warrants
for paramilitaries issued by the Attorney General's office languish
without action, according to Human Rights Watch.
number of paramilitaries has also climbed to at least 11,000 fighters
from just a few thousand in 1996 their units increasingly
engaging rebels in direct combat.
Uribe wants to bring back citizens' militias, which would make life
even more impossible for anyone in rural Colombia who has strived
to maintain neutrality. Add the U.S. government's lifting of restrictions
on military assistance and you're priming the bone-dry tinder of
Colombia needs most is a strengthened, more effective legal system
so prosecutors, judicial investigators, and journalists are no longer
hunted down and killed for challenging regional powerbrokers.
if Uribe can successfully pull off an eventual peace through brinkmanship,
can he avoid a blood orgy of excess, especially with a judicial
apparatus that Human Rights Watch says has been dulled and dispirited?
50, is a serious, some say humorless, man who impressed Colombians
on election night with his dour, non-celebratory mood.
studying in the early 1990s at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government
he was deeply influenced, he told me, by JFK's famed "City
Upon a Hill" speech.
officials must be ready for the judgment of history, Uribe paraphrased.
Were we truly men of courage, determination, and integrity? Compromised
by no private aim or obligation but devoted solely to the public
may just have been affectation, but in his office six years ago
Uribe sounded passionate about the sacred trust that Kennedy said
we invest in those who govern.
I sincerely wish Uribe the best trying to serve those ideals.
Bajak ('79) has lived in Poland, Germany, and Colombia during
more than two decades as a journalist. Currently based in New York,
he is technology editor for The Associated Press.
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