Welcome To Washington, Sr. Presidente Álvaro Uribe

  • On the right, one of the most controversial leaders in Latin America presides over a collapsing anti-drug war
  • Non-extradition pledge guarantees there will be more crime and no punishment
  • Free trade more important to Washington than respect of human rights in Colombia

President Álvaro Uribe arrived in Washington yesterday to carry on negotiations for a new U.S. foreign aid package and to help expedite the passage of a bilateral free trade pact between the U.S. and Colombia. Also of concern to the embattled Colombian figure is his plummeting reputation for sanctioning corruption and tolerating violence, which have induced Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, to freeze $55 million in U.S. aid to the Colombian military. In addition, Uribe had to endure the personal humiliation of having former U.S. vice president, Al Gore, refuse to join him at an environmental conference in Miami last month because of the Colombian leader’s discredited persona. If Uribe’s goals are achieved, it will demonstrate a high water market for the factor of duplicity in Washington’s hemispheric foreign policy. It will also reveal a considerable sales ability on Uribe’s part, who, with the assistance of major U.S. gullibility, already has helped to make his country the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the world.

While the Bush administration denounces Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez for “terrorism” and non-cooperation with Washington on a whole range of issues, it is Bogotá and certainly not Caracas which should be seen as South America’s most perfected rogue nation.

The grievous derelictions to be found in the deplorable record of the Uribe government in the areas of government malfeasance, corruption, human rights abuses, gutless anti-drug policies and the undermining of key components of Washington’s anti-drug policy, including ending the extradition of suspected Colombian drug traffickers to the U.S., should cast Uribe as a leader of the far right and not an apostle of public rectitude as he now purports to be. It is no wonder that the price of cocaine on the U.S. market is falling and its availability rising given the unraveling of Uribe’s commitment to the drug war.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration refuses to look deeper than Colombia’s entirely fraudulent palaver about its commitment to democracy and good government. When it comes to authentic democracy, Uribe deserves little better than a cold handshake in Washington rather than a warm abrazo.

One of the most troubled aspects of Uribe’s presidency has been his failure to implement effective measures curbing the activity of rightwing paramilitary troops which, when not drug-trafficking, have been terrorizing the country for years; Colombia continues to have congeries of social problems which have been politicized and militarized, but not effectively addressed, because Uribe is what he is. And what is he? He has been a man of the hard right, and a purported CIA asset going back to the days before his position as governor of Antioquia State and the assassination of his father Albert Uribe by the FARC.

The “demoblization” process, aimed at the reintegration into society of rightwing terrorists infamous for their massacres and brutal treatment of tens of thousands of innocent civilians for several decades, ill serves the cause of bringing to justice mass-murdering, drug-trafficking paramilitaries. Rather, it grants the leaders of the main vigilante force, AUC, amnesty or pathetically light terms so that they will readily lay down their arms.

Rather than face the prosecution they so rightly deserve, the AUC forces will serve minimum jail time and pay an insulting pittance to the relatives of their victims in compensation for their heinous crimes. Meanwhile, rather than the human rights violations abating, they’re stepping up, with the number of murdered trade unionists and labor activists on the rise. Uribe’s refusal to extradite paramilitaries involved in narco-trafficking and more to the U.S., or to strip them of their ill-earned wealth, is reflected in the unusually low price of cocaine.

The recent discovery of 27 tons of cocaine by the Colombian navy conveniently coincides with Uribe’s visit to Washington, and yet while this drug seizure is apparently the result of eight months of undercover investigation, no arrests have been made in conjunction with the seizure. Furthermore, Uribe is turning a blind eye to the increasing influences of bribed paramilitary-associated groups with his political party and its delegation in the Colombian congress. As a result, the paramilitaries present a huge threat to legitimate democracy by bribing public officials, rigging elections and using their ill-operated reputations for terror to obtain protection and safeguards from the government. Nine congressmen from Uribe’s coalition have been arrested for alleged conspiratorial ties with AUC paramilitary and Uribe’s former intelligence officer is currently under investigation for providing paramilitaries the names of trade unionists, some of whom were later murdered.

In other words, Colombia is formally a democracy, and yet substantively, it is a corruption-ridden machine that has witnessed some of the greatest humanitarian crimes of our time. Even Bush will have to acknowledge that in Álvaro Uribe, he has found no Snow White.

The fact that U.S.-Colombian relations are brimming with ill-deserved cordiality is a clear indicator that the duplicity factor is at work in the making of Washington’s foreign policy towards Colombia and that furthermore, most Americans are remote to Colombia’s currently dire situation.

It seems then, that so long as Latin American authorities enthusiastically advocate free trade and pose no threat to U.S. national interests, they will be able to cloak their countries in the guise of democracy, no matter how far this strays from the facts.

Even though Venezuela is far more substantively democratic than Colombia, Uribe’s rhetoric, however empty it may be, is far more pleasing for a denial-prone Washington to hear. So, welcome Mr. Colombian President, in spite of the fact that your shocking degree of tolerance to corruption and violence is nothing less than disgraceful.