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Thursday, May 19, 2022
Constanza Vieira and Helda Martínez
BOGOTA, Aug 6 2010 (IPS) - Colombian President Álvaro Uribe ends his second consecutive term Saturday with 75 percent approval ratings and strong international support reflected by his designation this week as vice chair of a United Nations-appointed international panel to investigate Israel’s attack on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza in May.
“Firm hand, big heart” was his campaign slogan when he was first swept to power in 2002 on a pledge to step up the war against the FARC guerrillas.
The motto that he has followed daily over the past eight years has been “work, work and more work.”
For the first time, Colombians saw a president travel the width and breadth of the country. His cultivated image as a “sincere” and “frank” man convinced many that he was the best leader the country had ever had.
He won reelection using methods considered illegal, carried out by third parties — a route that he attempted to follow again in his push for a constitutional amendment that would have allowed him to run for a third term. But the Constitutional Court cut that attempt short.
With the end of his term just hours away, he lashed out for the umpteenth time at the justice system, which has taken legal action against his close political allies and even relatives.
His government dipped into public security funds to spy on Supreme Court magistrates, human rights defenders, opposition lawmakers, and journalists, as a former senior official in the DAS, Colombia’s domestic intelligence agency, confessed.
The pressure he exerted for “results” in the counterinsurgency war and the system of military promotions and incentives put in place to encourage high “body counts” eventually led to the scandal over “false positives” — the term used to describe young civilians killed by the army and passed off as guerrilla casualties.
These cases were the most notorious expression of the biggest stain on his legacy: the dismal human rights situation in Colombia.
Another scandal was over the government’s Agro Ingreso Seguro (stable farm income) programme, under which some of the country’s wealthiest landowning families received millions of dollars in subsidies. The programme was designed to provide support to sectors of the economy affected by the free trade agreement with the United States, which never came through.
On the international front, Uribe leaves behind broken diplomatic ties with neighbours Ecuador and Venezuela.
Ecuador broke off relations in early 2008 following a Colombian cross-border raid that bombed a temporary FARC camp in Ecuador. The bombing cut short international negotiations with a rebel chief on the release of hostages held by the insurgent group.
Venezuela severed ties in late July after Uribe once again accused the government of Hugo Chávez of harbouring guerrillas in Venezuelan territory.
A hallmark of the Uribe administration has been an expanded military presence — financed in large part by U.S. military assistance — which has led to a perception of improved security.
According to the Armed Conflict Observatory of the Bogotá think tank Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris (CNAI), the military’s counterinsurgency efforts reduced the size of the FARC forces by 40 percent under Uribe, although the state has yet to recover control over half of the country’s territory of 1.1 million square kilometres.
The fighting, which has been pushed into areas that were not previously major combat zones, now affects 40 percent of the population, mainly in sparsely populated rural areas.
“In general terms, the FARC have maintained their military capacity and the security forces have consolidated their control over the central portion of the country,” the CNAI reported.
The Uribe administration nearly doubled the size of the armed forces, to over 445,000 troops. Defence spending amounts to 3.2 percent of GDP, according to the National Planning Department, or six percent, according to independent analysts.
In late 2009, the CNAI warned that the nearly five-decade long counterinsurgency campaign was once again bogged down. An agreement signed by Uribe to give U.S. forces access to seven military bases signals a clear aim to reach a military breakthrough in the war.
“The local economic and political elites continue to use illegal groups to maintain or expand their capital,” writes CNAI analyst Ariel Ávila, referring to the far-right paramilitary groups that were partially demobilised as a result of talks with Uribe.
In the meantime, the pressing public concern is urban insecurity, apparently related to the demobilisation of thousands of paramilitary fighters. (See sidebar.)
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