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A Council on Hemispheric Affairs Press Release

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Obama on Latin American Trade: Muddled and Confused

Uribe—Latin America’s Most Disgraced President

• Legacy of Colombia’s violation of Ecuador’s sovereignty will be a heavy cross for Uribe to bear.

• Honored in Washington, Uribe is scorned throughout Latin America for being Bush’s favored hemispheric figure.

However muffled the language may be, President Uribe is destined to be Latin America’s most scorned president in modern times. Condemned by voice and written denunciations throughout the hemisphere, Uribe did manage to solely win enthusiastic, if almost meaningless praise, from lame-duck President George Bush, who saw nothing wrong with Colombia applying Iraqi-style tactics on Ecuadorian territory. Even the most accommodating analyst would have to inform Uribe that he has just finished the most catastrophic week of an already catastrophic presidency and effectively the demise of his presidency and influenced on the hemisphere. There is no question that, ironically enough, Farcista Raúl Reyes has posthumously inflicted the most devastating and lasting defeat on Uribe. Metaphorically speaking, Reyes has scalped Uribe and then hung the Colombian leader’s tattered presidential sash upon a pike and walked the macabre sight through the streets of Latin America.

A Heavy Burden to Bear

At the end of the day, the price of gunning down Reyes will prove to be excessively high for Uribe. On going negotiations for the release of scores of FARC-held hostages, which has eagerly sought after by Uribe, have been unquestionably terminated, at least for the foreseeable future. Reyes was the FARC figure most identified with the hostage-release dialogue with Colombia and European intermediates. In the past, Reyes was the FARC official most engaged in talks that had taken place with high level figures abroad, working for the release of a number of FARC detainees, particularly Ingrid Betancourt, whose freedom was especially sought after by the French, due to her holding both Colombian and French citizenship. Additionally, Reyes was said to have maintained liaison with Venezuela’s efforts, which had been abruptly guillotined last November, when Hugo Chávez was sacked by Uribe as Colombia’s unofficial negotiator. By ordering the killing of Reyes, Uribe guaranteed that fo rmer Colombian presidential candid ate Ingrid Betancourt will remain in guerrilla custody indefinitely.

A Man for Few Seasons
Uribe cultivates a hard-line image that brooks no flexibility when it comes to visiting affliction upon the Farcistas, which has won him considerable popularity within Colombia. But it is a popularity that is more broad than deep. As for FARC, it is not a soft and fuzzy organization at all, but it must be understood that all of their actions have an end in mind. Behind the drug trafficking and kidnappings lies a resolve to obtain the freedom of their imprisoned comrades and to guarantee their own securities. Yet here again, Uribe’s instincts were antipathetic to a rational assessment of how to peacefully resolve on internecine strife that had been going on for decades, with honor and with homage to the Colombian nations.

Now prepared to retire from office, the Bush administration already has reached the nadir of its popularity on the Hill and when it comes to its Latin American policy, no one can suggest that it was even faintly credible. In fact, Bush’s policy was a parody of a policy; in effect, with no exaggeration, it could be called an anti-policy. Uribe is unlikely to witness the U.S. Congress passing a beneficial trade measure on his behalf. In terms of the high price that Uribe is being forced to pay, the toll is there to clearly be seen.

The Colombian president does not have a compelling reputation which can make him proud. Uribe is anything but an apostle of democracy. He is armed with a grim personality that is more Dick Cheneyesque in impact than Helen Keller, he had no problem with packing the country’s Supreme Court when he was encountering problems in convincing it to make a decision that the Constitution would allow him to be re-elected.

Nor did the U.S. make much of a fuss when, for a token guilty plea and a minimum prison sentence, AUC vigilantes are guaranteed against being extradited to the U.S., even though the extradition policy had been at the heart of Washington’s anti-drug strategy. Another sore point is Uribe’s reputation for playing fast and loose when it comes to personal matters of corruption, and his years of very murky connections to some of the country’s worst rightist extremists. He has worked tirelessly to provide these AUC extremist vigilantes (classified as “terrorists” even by the State Department) to see to it that their future isn’t bleak even now, many of the people who Uribe protected from doing jail time have gone back to a life of major drug trafficking. In a recurring scandal involving Uribe, some 35% of the legislative representatives of his conservative party have direct ideological and/or financial arrangements with these death-squads. Nor should it be forgotten that even the St ate Department acknowledges that t he AUC was tolerated and afforded sweetheart deals by Uribe while it still was carrying out massacres of trade union leaders and hundreds of other civilians.

Larry Birns
Director of COHA

Obama on Latin American Trade: Muddled and Confused

As the U.S. presidential campaign heats up, Barack Obama, a contender for the Democratic Party nomination, has been reluctant to discuss U.S. policy towards Latin America. In recent years, the region has undergone a major tectonic shift towards the left, prompting many to wonder how the young Illinois Senator might deal with progressive economic change if elected President.

In South America, there has been considerable resistance to the Bush Administration’s free trade initiatives. Hugo Chávez of Venezuela has even set up his own trade and barter scheme, the Bolivarian Alternative to The Americas (or ALBA), as a foil to Washington’s private sector model. Realizing that it cannot push through a hemispheric-wide free trade initiative, the Bush administration has sought individual free trade agreements on a country-by-country basis. However, recent deals have been questioned by many due to their lack of regard for adequate labor and environmental mandates.


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