The IAHRC on human rights in Venezuela Podcast: Extradited Paramilitaries and “Truth Behind Bars”
Feb 262010

Constitutional Court President Mauricio Gonzalez Cuervo announces its 7-2 decision: the constitutional reform referendum bill was unconstitutional because of the way it was approved. President Álvaro Uribe cannot run for a third term on May 30.

President Uribe accepts the court’s decision.

This is a very good step for Colombia. Its institutions, especially the balance between democratic powers, showed real strength today. Mature and stable democracies do not change their constitutions to benefit one individual, no matter how popular. Colombia is to be congratulated.

The court’s decision is also good news for the Obama administration, which certainly had no desire to work with an “ally” governed by a third-term president who proved unable to leave power voluntarily.

30 Responses to “Court: Uribe cannot run for a third term.”

  1. Camilla Says:

    I think this is for the best. President Uribe will go out a hero, the man who saved Colombia from Marxist narcoterror and endless ‘peace processes’ with terrorists. He was the man who said: Enough. And it will be bitter for the left to see what happens next – the parks, the highways, the postage stamps, the peso bills, the schools – they will all bear images of the great President Uribe. Children growing up will be told to be like President Uribe. Uribe will assume the role as elder statesman and be sought after for advice all over the world, particularly in hopeless hellholes. The name Uribe will be synonymous with ‘hero.’ I can’t wait.

  2. Lebranche Says:

    I think that history is going to be very kind to President Uribe despite what the critics say. There’s just too much evidence and by virtually any way you measure it – homicides, kidnappings, poverty, displacements all down, ridership on the roads, foreign investment, economy all up – that Uribe has turned Colombia around.

    I agree that new leadership is going to be a good thing, but unfortunately I can’t say that taking the country in a completely different direction will be positive. There are just too many bad actors in Colombia that will never be willing to negotiate a way out unless they are truly on the brink of annihilation.

  3. Fandango Says:

    So silent in here I can hear the crickets … are all the irrational Uribe-haters so shocked that the Great Paramilitary Fascist Bugaboo doesn’t rule Colombia at his whim? Stunned into silence?

  4. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Camilla, as I told you before when you came out with the exact same motto. Mr. Uribe will go out a hero and into an international jail. The rest is cheap rhetoric. However one has to recognize Camilla continues being a strong Mr Uribe’s supported no matter what happened, when 80% of the country woke up today not knowing exactly who this character was. The Colombian opportunistic attitude is legendary.

  5. Alvaro Hurtado Says:

    I seriously doubt it’s as easy as that, regarding both of the previous comments. I don’t think it’s too likely to see Uribe in an international jail, much less that he will hypothetically remain in one (for life?) as I assume Jaime Bustos takes for granted, but I also think it’s very doubtful that his legacy will be full of flowers and rainbows like Camilla is describing.

    I think a more rational and reasonable conclusion would be to compare and contrast, for example, with Fujimori’s situation in Peru, though even that example has its own flaws and differences since Uribe’s exit from power is apparently going to be a lot less traumatic and hectic now that the referendum is thankfully dead.

    Fujimori is currently in jail and has been sentenced for some crimes, not even all of the ones he probably commited, but he remains a relatively popular figure whose historical role has been grudgingly recognized by a fair amount of Peruvians and there is even talk of letting him free in some circles. His daughter, who has inherited his political legacy, is doing pretty good in the presidential polls.

    I don’t think the Colombian situation will be identical, but I think that’s a closer fit.

  6. Camilla Says:

    I don’t agree, Alvaro. I think Fujimori’s trouble started when he got that third term – it’s too much, corruption always follows, no matter how good the man may be – and Fujimori was indeed a good man earlier in his career.

    I think Uribe should be compared to the appeasers like Pastrana (whom I don’t hate totally, since he was a conservative) who gave FARC a switzerland-size piece of land which in turn led to more bombings, more kidnappings, more mayhem and impoverishment due to their terror. I think Uribe should be compared to corrupt Samper, the Cali Cartel’s Man in Bogota. Or Gaviria, who appeased and appeased and appeased the dopers, a man who always caved in. A guy like that is why people like Diana Turbay died. When you let dopers or terrorists run wild, always saying their human rights are more important than the polity as a whole, or when you give in to their threats instead of fight them. When you refuse to command others on your own side – and I am thinking of Gaviria who let himself be ordered around by cobardes in his government, all of whom could not bear to confront evil if it meant any risk to them, well, you get more badguys.

    Uribe wasn’t like that. Uribe bowed to no one but the Colombian people. He cared about them when others cared about applying abstract principles like human rights in the way NGOs dictated to dirtbags, and listened to NGO wisdom on peace accords instead of actual peace. You can get a lot of peace by destroying your enemies. Uribe knew that. That’s why he’s so different from other leaders Colombia has seen. I hope the next guy – maybe Santos – can learn from the example Uribe gave. Uribe goes out a great, great man. We shall not see his like again in our lifetime.

  7. Block Says:

    “We shall not see his like again in our lifetime.”

    Thank god.

  8. Camilo Wilson Says:

    The U.S. Department of State said today: “La decisión de la Corte del 26 de febrero es una nueva señal de que Colombia es una democracia vibrante y madura y muestra por qué Colombia es una aliado tan valorado por E.U.”

    I can imagine that the State Department would have issued the same statement had the Court opened the way for a third term for Uribe. In that case, the statement might have been complemented by some sort of statement reflecting the notion of democracy as “the will of the people.” And that, after all, was Uribe’s argument for allowing himself a third term-that opinion trumps law.

    While the decision of the Constitutional Court is to be lauded, there is a lot more to democracy than that. And Colombia still comes up wanting on many, many fronts.

  9. Alvaro Hurtado Says:

    I don’t know, Camilo, what else you could expect from a country that has been and remains at war for decades. That’s usually a serious obstacle to the normal development and functioning of democracy, or even that of any society. The continuing war and its sick logic has made things worse all across the board in many ways through the increasing use of violence, not to mention how it has enabled the drug trade to play a bigger role than it otherwise might have…but at heart the main failures of Colombian democracy are not that different in nature, only in relative scale, from the historical failings of many of the surrounding countries.

    Corruption? Check. Poverty? Check. Inequality? Check. Crime? Check. Social unrest? Check. Discrimination? Check. Polarization? Check. Abuses by those in power? Check. Intimidation or repression of dissent? Check. Weakness of the state? Check. Massively underdeveloped rural and border areas? Check. Exploitation of the poor by the rich? Check.

    With a partial exception or two, most if not all of the above are significant problems and are present in greater or lesser degrees throughout this entire continent today.

  10. Camilla Says:

    The U.S. Department of State said today: “La decisión de la Corte del 26 de febrero es una nueva señal de que Colombia es una democracia vibrante y madura y muestra por qué Colombia es una aliado tan valorado por E.U.”

    Translation: Obama couldn’t be gladder to see that goddamn Uribe go, just like he not-so-subtly hinted in his press conference at the White House half a year ago. Benefit: Obama gets let off the hook for his promise he never intended to keep, which was to go to Colombia. He won’t unless there’s a new leftist president in power and FARC is treated as an equal. Just like Jim Jones wanted. Best part: Now the path is open to approve free trade, given that Uribe will be out of picture. With Uribe out, Obama can admit and act the truth: that his opposition to the pact was an opposition to a PERSON, not an actual pact. He can screw Uribe by getting it through after him, and there’s zero doubt that the US union thugs holding it up will drop their opposition, given that they get literally nothing out of it, except for the pleasure of f’ing Uribe over. Suddenly, it will be all about Uribe – not the pact. Hence, the Obamaton delight at the court decision. It’s not about democracy. It’s about hating on Uribe. The only silver lining is that Obama will get the boot from voters in 2012 in a far less gentle way Uribe got his walking papers. Uribe will have the last laugh.

  11. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Camilla, whoever wrote that piece of crap cannot be serious. Putting Mr Uribe at the same level of President Obama is a demonstration of sheer lack of sense of proportions. President Obama is an educated, charming gentleman, president of one of the most important countries in the world. Mr Uribe was only an uneducated would-be dictator of a banana republic. I could go on enumerating the reasons why comparing this two individuals is completely absurd. But I hope one day it will finally dawn on you naturally.

  12. Block Says:

    Is it possible that Camilla is actually Uribe himself? I can think of no other explanation for thinking that the entire world revolves around the soon-to-be ex-presidente colombiano. “Union thugs” holding up FTA just to screw Uribe? You’ve got to be kidding. I’d love to see a poll of how many “union thugs” even know who Uribe is.

    Camilo, I look at the court decision as a gasp from the remnants of a battered democracy as it tries to scratch its way from the rubble of destruction that is uribismo. Sure it leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s still a relief to know that something survives.

  13. Camilo Wilson Says:

    A few thoughts come to mind on the Uribe phenomenon and the Court’s recent decision:

    (1) Colombia, like much of Latin America, remains the land of the caudillo. Uribe was a caudillo par excellence. He is a charismatic orator and a gifted political strategist. Uribe has one foot in the 19th century regionalism of Colombia and the other in the modern sector, and he was able to use his skills as a caudillo to link the two fronts, past and present, and muster support from both. Being a large landowner established his credentials as a 19th-century man. Uribe’s famed ranch, El Ubérrimo, is in Córdoba, one of the country’s more backward departments, with land tenure highly skewed toward wealth and power. Not by chance, Córdoba is also the milieu of paramilitary chief Salvatore Mancuso, and has been a paramilitary haven from early on. Uribe was seen as a paramilitary candidate and received paramilitary support.

    (2) The essence of caudillismo is personalismo. Under caudillismo, politics and government turn on the charisma of individuals, not on institutions. And institutions tend to be weak in Colombia.

    (3) Colombia is a collection of regions more than a nation. Long at play has been a center-periphery dynamic. Uribe was fond of going to the periphery, to the local level to conduct “community councils” (consejos comunitarios). These councils were a novel in Colombia and played well with local people. They earned Uribe a substantial measure of popularity. The fact that they played well is itself a measure of the historical distance between center and periphery in the country, and the center’s neglect of the periphery.

    (4) Uribe managed the media, in a country where media ownership is highly concentrated and only a handful of journalists have been bold enough to confront Uribe’s power. And they have often paid the price, ranging from loss of job to loss of life. The media have been managed in a way to exaggerate the positive and minimize the negative, all to Uribe’s advantage. The media have managed popular perception, thus giving Uribe credit for more than he actually achieved. Uribe’s democratic security policies are one case in point. (The notion that there is no armed conflict, only “terrorism,” is another.) Historians will now sift through his tenure in office and try to tease out real accomplishments from perceived ones—in a country where things are often other than what they seem.

    In one sense, the Uribe phenomenon was the perfect storm. Uribe appeared on the historical stage at a given moment, and used and managed the “correlation of forces” of that moment to his advantage and to that of his supporters—of those mired in the past as of those anchored in the present. But alas, he trafficked, if brilliantly, in perception and consequence rather than in cause. And the causes of Colombia’s problems, the armed conflict and others, run deep—e.g., a skewed distribution of land and wealth as well as access to power and the benefits of modern life, and a political regime in which clientelism and prebendary practices prevail. Uribe favored the country’s political and economic elite, not its socioeconomically marginal populations. He has not resolved Colombia’s deeper problems, or even put the country on a path toward their resolution. Colombia is the second-poorest country in South America, after Bolivia, with almost half of the population living below the poverty line, and just under one-fourth experiencing extreme poverty.

    The decision of Colombia’s Constitutional Court is to be lauded, for it represents a democratic glimmer in an otherwise democratically dark landscape. The decision is encouraging in that it places law above opinion, and so takes careful aim at Colombia’s caudillismo. Yet the Court’s decision hardly indicates a “vibrant democracy.” Much more remains to be done.

  14. común Says:

    Very thoughtful post Camilo. But I am not sure how you arrived at “Colombia is the second-poorest country in South America, after Bolivia”, in fact according to the IMF, Colombia has the fourth largest economy in S. America in terms of GDP, and Bolivia is #9, ahead of Paraguay, Suriname, and Guyana.

  15. Camilo Wilson Says:

    Común: There are many figures on poverty in Colombia, and there is some variation among them. I took these from a recent article in Semana, for they were readily accessible for my quick post. The figures are in the ballpark as regards poverty in Colombia. And Colombia is the second-poorest country in South America, following Bolivia. The size of the two economies is irrelevant with regard to poverty measurements.

  16. Alvaro Hurtado Says:

    Camilo’s points 1-3 are largely valid, but I think he overreaches in the last one.

    Uribe’s influence over the media is far from absolute and it is highly irresponsible to preemptively dismiss the importance of those criticisms that have in fact been published on a fairly regular basis, whether or not they go as far as one may want them to in certain areas.

    To simply generalize by saying that its role has been to magnify Uribe’s successes and minimize his failure olympically ignores the effect of all the print, radio and even TV coverage of such issues like rises in unemployment, parapolitics, AIS, the ill-fated health reform, the late referendum’s irregularities and so on. I don’t think you can seriously state that such coverage has been automatically and uniformly positive towards Uribe, as a whole, unless you’re waving away anything and everything that would indicate otherwise.

    Some outlets are more or less critical than others, truly, but most at least implicitly mention that not everything is good nor perfectly fine, regardless of the government’s rhetoric. I think it’s also worth keeping in mind that the educated sectors of the population are less easy to manipulate or sway than the uneducated, whether they’re wealthy or not, and don’t really need to be spoon-fed a viciously explicit or aggressive criticism of someone or something in order to reach their own conclusions using the same information. Even the actual elites are not entirely pro-Uribe by virtue of the fact that some of them have their own political or economic aspirations or, perhaps shockingly, are smart enough to admit that there are avoidable problems with Uribe’s rule. And those who receive media coverage or have outright ownership over part of the media aren’t just the hardcore Uribists. Moderate Uribism can be at least a little critical, as shown by the fact that a number of people who were formerly in Uribe’s government or coalition are now doing their own thing without being automatically demonized by the rest of the media.

    I also find it more than a little overly ambitious, if not cynical, to present the armed conflict as something that can only be resolved through systematically overcoming Colombia’s “deeper problems” in one go when Latin America still has to face many of the same issues to this day (in spite of its having elected more progressive leaders in recent years). More importantly, they were already present back in the 1940s-1960s throughout the region and thus I don’t think you can argue that Colombia has always been among the worst countries ever since the conflict started. Looking at things from that angle sidesteps the internal logic of the conflict’s political dimension, which isn’t a perfect reflection of the reality on the ground, not even proportionally, but includes the subjective ambitions, ideas and perceptions of the different actors. Just look at Brazil. Inequality and the gap between the rich and the poor have been consistently higher in that country than in Colombia. Its top cities are full of shameful slums that aren’t any better than Colombia’s and I doubt you can argue that all the benefits of “modern life” reach those who live there, much less those who live in that nation’s sizable periphery. As for corrupt and clientelism…you don’t need to go too far in order to find that it’s still one of the most common complaints, wherever you go, regardless of what kind of political party is in power. Even thoug hChavez has reduced poverty and unemployment, ironically enough, corruption and clientelism have shot through the roof. It’s just a different set of people doing the dirty work (or perhaps some of them just chose to wear a red shirt).

  17. Alvaro Hurtado Says:

    If, as something of a conclusion, there is a dark democratic landscape in Colombia (though it would be nice to properly address the brighter aspects of the same, perhaps in another opportunity), then it must be accepted that a lot of this darkness is inherent to the history and structure of Latin American democracies instead of something uniquely, exclusively or bizarrely Colombian. What Colombia needs to do, among other things, is to find a way towards the light, but it’s not like we only have to cross the nearest border in order to find it.

  18. Block Says:

    Alvaro, you said:

    “To simply generalize by saying that its role has been to magnify Uribe’s successes and minimize his failure olympically ignores the effect of all the print, radio and even TV coverage of such issues like rises in unemployment, parapolitics, AIS, the ill-fated health reform, the late referendum’s irregularities and so on. I don’t think you can seriously state that such coverage has been automatically and uniformly positive towards Uribe, as a whole, unless you’re waving away anything and everything that would indicate otherwise.”

    I agree with you that the media does cover the negative angles of Uribe’s administration. But some of these scandals (AIS and parapolitics in particular) would have been enough to sink any government in a more reasonable political climate. It would be ludicrous for a news outlet not to report on these things, no matter how uribista they are. But where are the penetrating investigations, the hounding interviews? You don’t see those. The attitude seems to be more of a oh-well, business-as-usual type. I would definitely classify this as minimizing his failures.

    You’re right that coverage has not been automatically and uniformly positive towards Uribe, but that’s only because he has made collossal misstep after collossal misstep in his overtly power-hungry political maneuvering. I actually approach something like awe when I think about the clumsiness that has characterized scandal after scandal. Each one more “descarado” than the last.

    Also, what do you think the ratio is of educated:uneducated sectors of the population? 1:5? 1:10? 1:20? Dismissing worries about media bias because the “educated sectors” don’t fall for it doesn’t strike me as a very strong argument.

  19. Alvaro Hurtado Says:

    Block: Well, that’s just it. If Uribe had absolute control over the media and had all the government’s institutions in his pocket, there would be no such talk of those scandals in the first place. It wouldn’t be convenient to bring them up. Some of these scandals have been prompted by judicial decisions (which shows that even at this late stage of the game Uribe hasn’t successfully gone as far as, say, Chávez in filling the judiciary with only his own men) but others are, in fact, either the result of press investigations or have benefitted from them. The printed media and the radio, in particular, tend to have some rather critical headlines when new dirt has been found. So do at least a couple of the TV news / opinion programs on occasion, particularly when they get at least some semi-critical personalities on board. Interviews as such tend to be fairly mediocre, at least most of the time, but there have been some pretty good investigations and debates…even on Canal Institutional, which is a free and public TV channel, congressional sessions about parapolitics and other subjects have been transmitted.

    The educated sectors of the population probably aren’t the majority, by any means, but they are certainly the more politically active and news savvy, whether as voters or even as politicians and simple commentators, not to mention being part of other official and unofficial instances within a society or a government that aren’t just a direct reflection of demographic weight. And these people tend to follow the news on a regular basis, reading news magazines, listening to the radio, talking about the situation to families and friends, as well as resorting to other forms of debate and exerting influence among their peers.

    Even if you want to argue that the weight of the scandals has been minimized by media, I would say that depends on the eye of the beholder. It depends on what one individually chooses to read, hear or watch.

    In fact, I remember there was a poll a couple of months ago showing that Uribe’s popularity had deteriorated the most among the wealthier sectors (”Estratos” 5-6) , as opposed to among the poorest (1-2), where it appeared to be very strong. Kind of goes against the typical perception and representation of Uribe being popular only among the rich and inherently unpopular among the poor, when the reality can be quite a bit more nuanced than that. If anything, it’s almost the direct opposite. Naturally, it should be pointed out that such polls probably covered urban areas rather than the countryside, though Colombia’s population is far more urban than rural as a whole.

    It is true that the resulting effects on Uribe’s overall image haven’t been as serious nor as grave as they should be, which shows there is indeed disinformation and manipulation out there, in addition to simple indifference and exhaustation that leads to inaction or apathy. That isn’t good nor healthy at all.

    But the fact that an accumulation of factors can lead, directly and indirectly, to such scenes as the press corps loudly celebrating the Constitutional Court’s recent decision while it was being transmitted live shows that the picture isn’t pure black.

  20. Jaime Bustos Says:

  21. [コロンビア]裁判所、ウリベの再選国民投票に違憲判断 « Caracas Café Says:

    [...] Plan Colombia and Beyond [...]

  22. lfm Says:

    Oh, I just came back from a trip and am having a hard time collecting my thoughts on this. There’s a lot to think about. But here are a couple dimes:

    1. For goodness sake, Camilla’s descent into madness has really sped up! We’re talking personality cult here.
    2. I suggest that cooler heads consider that it is a bit premature to pass a “historical judgment” on Uribe. History’s judgment takes time and it’s never absolute. Different eras regard the same figure under different lights. Whether Uribe’s face will be staring at me from some peso bill is the least of my concerns. (I use bills with Nunnez face on them and have learned to look the other way when I drive by Laureano Gomez massive bust in Bogota. Not once have I spitted.)
    3. I’m on record hating every bit of Uribe’s Administrations (except for the occasional friend of mine there who manages to do some good). But I’m not popping champaign right now. The deep roots of Uribe’s rise to power, that is, the consolidation of regional landed interests, the alliance of those same interests with large transnational capital all this against the backdrop of the economic transformations of Colombia in the past two decades, are still intact. Uribismo without Uribe is still a possibility. Since the causes are still there, the consequences are likely to persist. That is, the penetration of paramilitary structures in Colombia’s economy and politics.
    4. Turns out that the FARC DID outlive Uribe. I’m just stating the fact because it is quite remarkable. Under normal circumstances, you would expect that if eight years of all-out counterinsurgency failed to do the trick, people would start considering some changes in the policy. It doesn’t have to be a stock-and-barrel rejection, but SOME change. But we all know that Colombia is not normal in this sense. That’s what keeps this forum alive, isn’t it?

  23. lfm Says:

    Oh! Something else. This is the first time as far back as I can remember, when this late in the electoral process the field of plausible candidates is still so wide open. I’m scratching my head to come up with precedents and there’s nothing I can think of, largely because Colombia’s two-party system is so old and stable. (Maybe the Draconian “revolt” of 1856?) This is arguably the first open-seat election since the party system suffered a series of massive heart failures in the late 90s and early 00’s. First the Conservative party went into a coma but, remarkable trick, managed to elect Pastrana although as an “outsider” (yeah, you can laugh). Then the Liberal party was badly undercut by the Uribista revolt. I’ve been wondering if the two parties are dead. Much depends on this election. If they do die, that will be one for the ages: one of the oldest two-party systems in the world, that survived all the great cataclysms of the 20th Century will have come to pass.

  24. Global Voices Online » Colombia: Court Rules President Uribe Cannot Run for Third Term Says:

    [...] Isacson from Plan Colombia and Beyond: This is a very good step for Colombia. Its institutions, especially the balance between democratic [...]

  25. Jaime Bustos Says:

    I am glad to have such diverse and illustrious pens writing in this blog back again in a multifarious flock of opinions: lfm, block, comun, Camillo, Alvaro and why not Camilla. It’s good to have this salubrious happening sparking some controversy, but what a good controversy, class A, I’ve read them all … ;)

  26. Camilla Says:

    And the curious this, Jaime, is that we all agree it’s better to not have a third Uribe term.

    Next up: Chavez’s murder plot against Uribe. I am hearing – and it’s from someone big – that Uribe’s mealy-mouthed response to that was because Chavez has bad secrets about Uribe and intends to use them. I don’t know if I believe him, because he’s hardly the guy Chavez would tell that to. On the other hand, I don’t understand why Uribe’s response to something so vile and evil was so mild. What does he have to gain from a soggy response? Especially now when he can tell everyone what he really thinks on the way out? Why the soft response to a murder plot from a fellow president?

    But the person I heard from says the guy who’s really vulnerable to a Chavez-FARC-ETA assassination is JMS, because Chavez is terrified of him and has no dirt on him – and his old family pals over at RCTV are the cherry on the sundae of Chavista rage. I hope he’s protected, Chavez wants that guy in office even less than he wants Uribe. I do believe that.

  27. Jaime Bustos Says:

  28. Colombia’s President Uribe smacked down in bid for re-election - Marcelo Ballve - South Meridian - True/Slant Says:

    [...] for his third term plans. Many observers of Latin America reacted with happiness to the news. In a post, Adam Isacson, Latin America specialist at the Center for International Policy, wrote: [...]

  29. Alfredo Says:

    On a different subject that I may have missed here but did not see it, is this news from Colombia’s Constitutional Court that may have a huge impact on Uribe’s and the US’s agenda……

  30. Colombia Post-Election Analysis – From the Top Says:

    [...] it was uncertain whether Uribe would be allowed to run again. When it was finally announced he couldn’t, at the end of February 2010, the race to succeed him took off, and candidates and parties [...]

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