Monday, June 5, 2006

Colombia's election

Colombia's election on May 28 was an important turning point - a real one, not like the endless "turning points" and "tipping points" in Iraq.

This is the first election there in which the encumbent president is allowed to run for re-election.  The current president, Álvaro Uribe, has actually made some substantial progress toward restoring peace and stability to his country, which has been plagued by drug gangs and guerilla warfare for decades now.

The Harvard- and Oxford-educated president has been touched personally by the violence.  In 1983, his father, Álvaro Uribe Sierra, was assassinated by FARC, one of the two main guerrilla groups.  He himself has been the target of several assassination attempts.

His significance is not the success of his economic policies.  As Spain's El Mundo has noted, "Su reforma económica ha castigado a los más débiles".  [His economic reform has punished the weakest".]  (Álvaro Uribe, 'mano firme y corazón grande' El Mundo 26.05.06)

His significance is in moving the country toward democratic normality.  Uribe reached an agreement with rightwing militias that allowed substantial disarmament of those groups.  He has not yet succeeded in reaching agreement with FARC or the ELN, both theoretically left-wing groups, though the distinction between their political motivations, their drug-related businesses and general gangsterism seems to have shrunk considerably over the years.  It's a good sign that FARC recommended that people vote in Sunday's election, instead of opposing the vote altogether.

See also Los colombianos eligen presidente entre fuertes medidas de seguridad El Mundo 28.05.06.

It remains to be seen how shrewdly he will manage relations with the United States.  As Patrick Moser reports for AFP (Colombia's Uribe marks historic re-election at mass in Medellin 05/30/06), Uribe is "the closest ally of US President George W. Bush in Latin America."  Give the state of Bush's popularity in Latin America, that might not be saying a lot.

But there have been disturbing signs lately that the administration is dabbling again with "regime change" manuevers in the region, as they did in 2002 and 2003 with Venezuela.

Moser also reports:

Government sources here [in Bogota] said that Javier Solana, the     European Union's foreign and security policy high representative, had sent a message of congratulations to Uribe.

Solana said in his message to Uribe that he hoped the search for peace and national reconciliation would continue under Uribe's new mandate, according to the sources.

Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, told his "friend" Uribe in a statement to "be sure that Brazil will continue alongside Colombia ... to further elevate the level of relations between our nations and strengthen the integration efforts of all South America."

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