Colombia’s president, Ãlvaro Uribe, arrives in Washington Tuesday evening. He will be staying until Friday. This will be the Colombian government’s big offensive of the year in favor of the bilateral free-trade agreement and yet another 80-percent-military aid package.
Uribe’s agenda is heavily weighted toward meetings with congressional Democrats, who hold the key to decisions on both of these priorities. Many of these legislators have opposed Plan Colombia’s military focus in the past, and are skeptics of the free-trade agreement.
In many cases, these congressional Democrats will be meeting with Uribe for only the first or second time. Most will have only a passing familiarity with what is happening in Colombia.
The picture they have of Colombia’s leader is probably confusing and contradictory. Some have likely heard glowing accounts of how much safer and prosperous Colombia has become under Uribe, and how he is one of the United States’ only friends in a politically tumultuous region. Others, on the other hand, may have heard Uribe described as a monster who has tolerated – or even fostered – paramilitary groups, and who is bent on strengthening an abusive military in the name of free-market orthodoxy.
I’ve met Ãlvaro Uribe twice, seen him speak a few times, and have read dozens of his speeches in the 1,727 days since he became Colombia’s president. After all that time, I think there is some truth to both of these impressions.