Colombia’s Uribe Out of Office, But Not Out of Mind

By Tom Long

Alvaro Uribe receiving the Medal of Freedom | Photo credit: White House photo by Chris Greenberg / / Public domain

Alvaro Uribe receiving the Medal of Freedom | Photo credit: White House photo by Chris Greenberg / / Public domain

Former Presidents George W. Bush and Álvaro Uribe of Colombia were close allies in the “war on terror,” but they are taking very different approaches to their post-presidency.  While the former has taken up painting and appears at few public events, since leaving office in 2010 Uribe has consistently tried to upstage his hand-picked successor, Juan Manuel Santos.  He has frequently taken to Twitter with biting criticisms, and in recent months – as provincial and municipal elections near – Uribe’s public condemnations have grown both more vociferous and more damaging.  Even ardent supporters of Uribe’s presidency are questioning his post-presidential politicking, according to press reports.

In particular, the former president’s attacks on the ongoing peace talks with the FARC and Colombia’s more conciliatory approach to Venezuela have contributed to a drop in Santos’ support, according to polls, and made the two endeavors more difficult and politically costly.  On the former, Uribe has repeatedly accused Santos of offering “impunity” to FARC fighters.  He’s also accused Santos of “turning his back on democracy” for joining (albeit reluctantly) the UNASUR consensus to recognize Nicolás Maduro’s narrow victory in the Venezuelan presidential elections.  And Uribe has slammed Santos’s efforts to hold Uribe-era officials responsible for violence and corruption.  Though Uribe’s attacks have complicated Santos’ position with his own party on these issues, the reaction has been quite different in the United States.  Though Uribe’s criticism has found an audience with the far right in the United States, Santos retains considerable U.S. backing.  Uribe’s role as the main U.S. ally in South America in the past was warmly rewarded and he was held up as Colombia’s savior – President Bush gave him the Medal of Freedom – but his hectoring of Santos and his failure to atone for violations during his government appear to have undermined his credibility.

Uribe’s post-presidential antics should spark a re-evaluation of his presidency, even among those who downplayed human rights problems and suspected links to paramilitaries among Uribe’s party and family.  His accomplishments in rebuilding the Colombian military and imposing tactical defeats on the FARC cannot be denied, but in doing so, he ran roughshod over civilian institutions, used a secret intelligence unit to harass opponents in and out of government, and, with the deaths of potentially thousands of “false positives,” appears to have been complicit in serious violations of human rights. Out of office, he continues to show a similar lack of respect for democratic processes and decorum – even as he levels that same accusation against Venezuelan leaders – and he still seems profoundly resentful that he failed to amend the Constitution to allow himself a third term.  In a democracy, there can only be one president at a time.  Former presidents have the right to speak out, but it’s fair to ask if their goal is constructive and contributes to the integrity of democratic institutions.


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1 Comment

  1. Gustavo Coronel

     /  April 30, 2013

    If criticism of Uribe is based mainly in his rejection of Santos joining of UNASUR I would say Mr. Long falls way too short. UNASAUR is a brothel financed by Venezuelan money, with the objective of isolating the U.S. and Canada. Santos recognition of Nicolas Maduro as president of Venezuela is a cowardly act.


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