Colombia at a Crossroads: “Para-political” Scandals and Leftist Revenge
More than a president’s political survival, what appears to be at stake is the future of important sectors of the right and center-right in Colombia that did not bow to the narco-guerrillas that have bloodied the nation for decades
On April 17, Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro, leader of the leftist coalition Polo Democrático Alternativo (Alternative Democratic Pole), made a speech accusing President Uribe and his family members of condoning crimes by paramilitary groups in the province of Antioquia, where Uribe had been governor. Senator Petro did not produce cardboard boxes filled with documents, as other congressmen often do, but brought a laptop with a Power Point presentation. Petro also inaugurated a new media venue whereby his speech was broadcast live on four Internet channels to the whole world, and especially to the United States.
The speech’s effects abroad were immediately felt. On April 18, The Washington Post announced with large headlines: “Colombian Senator Denounces: Death Squads Were at Uribe’s Farm.” One day later, President Uribe admitted to his Chilean counterpart, Michelle Bachelet, on an official visit to Colombia: “They’ve done the damage they wanted.” On April 20, former Vice-President Al Gore cancelled his appointment to appear at an international environmental forum in Miami, where Uribe was present.
President Uribe has repeatedly denied involvement with the paramilitary groups. However, the denunciations were immediately echoed by the left wing of the Democratic Party in the United States. There is already talk that Congress with its Democratic majority may support the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Peru and Panama but veto the same agreement with Colombia, possibly destabilizing that country economically. The office of Senator Patrick Leahy announced that $55.2 million destined to the Colombian Armed Forces will be frozen.
It was later learned that Colombian Senator Petro had prepared his media show so that members of the government coalition were taken by surprise. In their optimism, they had underestimated the announced speech by the representative of the Alternative Democratic Pole and had prepared no special defense strategy.
It was also learned that the denunciation had been prepared to influence public opinion abroad, particularly in the United States. Ever since the Democrats’ victory in the mid-term elections, Colombian Senators Gustavo Petro and Jorge Robledo, and worker union representatives have been received by important figures in Washington.
In the beginning of May, Uribe l traveled to Washington to hold talks about the FTA. It is of the utmost importance that the “paramilitary-political” scandals be clarified entirely, according to recognized standards and not mere allegations.
However, more than a president’s political survival, what appears to be at stake here is the political and psychological future of important sectors of the right and center-right in Colombia that did not bow to the narco-guerrillas that have bloodied the nation for decades and who saw the present government as a means to ensure freedom and prosperity in Colombia.