AndrÃ©s Pastrana has left us, after less than a year as Colombia’s ambassador in Washington. He quit in a storm of anger: the very moment that President Uribe named another former president, narco-money-tainted Ernesto Samper, to be ambassador in France, Pastrana canceled all his appointments, flew to BogotÃ¡, held a long meeting with Uribe and quit his job.
Pastrana and Samper could not be worse enemies. After Samper defeated him in the 1994 elections, it was Pastrana who leaked evidence that Samper had received large amounts of campaign cash from the Cali cartel. This evidence did not lead to Samperâ€™s impeachment or punishment, but the U.S. government found it sufficient to deny Samper a visa, and it touched off a huge scandal that essentially destroyed Samperâ€™s presidency.
Naming Samper to the embassy in Paris was the latest of several moves the Uribe government has taken lately that no doubt displease the Bush administration. These include:
- Planning a visit to Cuba, inviting Fidel Castro to his inauguration in August, and entering into trade talks with his government.
- Making clear, as Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt said in a newspaper interview on Sunday, that paramilitary leaders wanted in the United States for drug trafficking will not be extradited if they stay within the lenient confines of the â€œJustice and Peaceâ€ law.
- Signing a deal with Venezuelan President Hugo ChÃ¡vez for a trans-border gas pipeline.
- According to conservative columnist Robert Novak, refusing a request by George W. Bush last month to be â€œour man in the Andes,â€ backing the U.S. effort to isolate ChÃ¡vez. Writes Novak, â€œBush was dissatisfied with Uribe’s noncommittal reaction in the Oval Office when the U.S. president said he was counting on him to lead the struggle against Chavez.â€
Taken together, these moves indicate that Ãlvaro Uribe is willing to test the boundaries of his friendship with the United States. Realizing that the Bush administration lacks similarly close allies in Latin America, Uribe appears to be both seeking to demonstrate that (a) he is not a tool of the Bush administration and (b) he can get away with doing many things that make Washington uncomfortable, thanks to his privileged position as the United Statesâ€™ chief partner in the volatile Andes.
But back to Pastrana. The former presidentâ€™s sudden resignation leaves many of us here in Washington wondering what else is going on. The naming of a sworn political enemy and fellow ex-president to another ambassadorial post no doubt outraged Pastrana; he told reporters that it was a â€œmoral impossibilityâ€ for him to serve in the same administration as Samper.
But it was not a â€œmoral impossibilityâ€ for Pastrana to serve in the same Foreign Ministry as Jorge Noguera, the consul in Milan who allegedly placed the presidential intelligence agency (the DAS) at the service of paramilitaries and drug traffickers during his three-year tenure as its director. Nor was it a â€œmoral impossibilityâ€ for Pastrana to serve a government that has given a most lenient treatment to paramilitary leaders involved in epic levels of criminality. Before being named to the ambassadorship, Pastrana had criticized the Uribe governmentâ€™s talks with the paramilitaries as â€œimprovisedâ€ and â€œhermetic,â€ and had voiced concerns about growing paramilitary power under Uribe and the effect it would have on the next elections.
Pastranaâ€™s sudden exit has a whiff of pretext to it. It feels as if the ambassador was ready to leave Washington anyway, and Samperâ€™s nomination gave him a reason. Keep in mind that:
- Pastrana was never an Uribe supporter. In fact, in 2004 and early 2005, the two leaders exchanged strong words on a few occasions. Pastrana accused Uribe of buying votes in the Congress in order to win the right to run for re-election. Uribe responded that Pastrana, during his failed attempt to talk with the FARC guerrillas, engaged in â€œflirting with violent groups to buy smiles for the cameras.â€ These two men are not good friends.
- Pastrana was likely bothered by Uribeâ€™s style. He was rumored to be unhappy, for instance, that Uribe gave him only a few days to prepare for a sudden February 2006 presidential visit to Washington to give a push for free trade negotiations.
- Pastrana, an ex-president and one of Colombiaâ€™s most recognized politicians, may simply have grown a bit bored with a life in semi-exile in Washington, out of BogotÃ¡â€™s political fray.
Pastrana has most likely left us for a combination of these reasons, and perhaps others. But the naming of Samper to the Paris ambassadorship is not, on its own, a satisfying explanation for why he would be leaving so soon, and so abruptly.