Energy integration, seen from Washington Not quite a “terrorist hub”
Jul 122006

Andrés 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 Bogotá, 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 Samper’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 Samper’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 “Justice and Peace” law.
  • Signing a deal with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez for a trans-border gas pipeline.
  • According to conservative columnist Robert Novak, refusing a request by George W. Bush last month to be “our man in the Andes,” backing the U.S. effort to isolate Chávez. Writes Novak, “Bush 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.”

Taken together, these moves indicate that Álvaro 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 States’ chief partner in the volatile Andes.

But back to Pastrana. The former president’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 “moral impossibility” for him to serve in the same administration as Samper.

But it was not a “moral impossibility” 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 “moral impossibility” 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 government’s talks with the paramilitaries as “improvised” and “hermetic,” and had voiced concerns about growing paramilitary power under Uribe and the effect it would have on the next elections.

Pastrana’s sudden exit has a whiff of pretext to it. It feels as if the ambassador was ready to leave Washington anyway, and Samper’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 “flirting with violent groups to buy smiles for the cameras.” These two men are not good friends.
  • Pastrana was likely bothered by Uribe’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 Colombia’s most recognized politicians, may simply have grown a bit bored with a life in semi-exile in Washington, out of Bogotá’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.

14 Responses to “Leaving so soon?”

  1. Richard Russell Says:

    When I recently resumed reading the news about Colombia, I was surprised to learn that Pastrana was
    Colombia’s ambassador to Washington. An ambassadorial post doesn’t really seem “worthy” of an ex-president of Colombia, although perhaps this is a pattern in Colombian politics that I’m just not aware of.

    I appreciate Adam’s pointing out that Uribe didn’t mind tweaking George Bush’s nose with the Samper appointment; but my question is, “Why would Uribe want to appoint Samper as French ambassador in the first place? Again, maybe this is just my ignorance, but are Uribe and Samper political friends? What was Uribe trying to accomplish with such a controversial nomination of a person generally considered to be “unsavory” morally. Is Uribe perhaps really connected somehow to the narcotraficantes?

    Remembering “Star Wars” and Hans Solo, I must say, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

  2. Rainer Cale Says:

    I’m no authority on the Samper presidency, but doing some quick googling I see it’s not so straightforward as it first seems.

    For one, there are those who say that the Cali cartel from which Samper received campaign money was destroyed during Samper’s term thanks to Samper’s efforts.

    I also know Colombians who remember Samper primarily as someone who stood up to the US for the interests of Colombia (I’m not sure on what issues exactly). The drug scandal is remembered as a sort of secondary characteristic.

    In short, the Samper presidency needs a closer look, especially in relation to the subject of Adam’s post.

  3. richtiger Says:

    Motivated by Rainer’s comment indicating that the Samper drug controversy was not so straightforward, I thumbed to the last pages of a modern history of Colombia (bibliografic reference to follow) and found this statement:

    “(The Fiscalía General de la Nación)…revealed its flaws in 1995, when the fiscal (chief prosecutor) accused President Samper of complicity in the acceptance of funds from the drug cartel of Cali in the presidential campaign of 1994. With the prosecutor’s office in the hands of a professional politician, and not a jurist, it carried out its investigation without being responsible to anyone. The prosecutor was unable to construct a solid case against the president, dedicated all his resources obsessively to removing the president, aligned himself very obviously with the political enemies of the president, and to top it off, resigned as prosecutor in order to put himself forward as a Liberal candidate for the presidency.”

    Safford, Frank, and Marco Palacios. Colombia: Fragmented Land, Divided Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. See page 369.

    Now that I rack my memory, I do remember watching an interview of Samper by Jorge Ramos of Univision. Ramos displayed a photograph of Samper with some well-known drug boss. Samper asserted that news reports had already established that the photo had been digitally altered and that he, Samper, was not in fact a part of the original photograph. Ramos later claimed on this same news program that there was in fact no alteration of the original photo and that Samper had simply lied.

    Well, to follow Rainer’s thought, hardly anything
    is straightforward in politics–particularly Colombian politics.

  4. jcg Says:

    It should also be mentioned that Samper has had quite good (comparatively) relations with Paris, due to his continued public support in favor of efforts leading to Ingrid Betancourt’s freedom. France does not view Samper in the same light as the U.S. does.

    Rainer, while Samper may not have been as bad as it is politically correct to believe, he was no saint either. Frankly, I’d say that there are no saints in Colombia.

  5. Adam Isacson Says:

    I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me why Uribe would have thought it would benefit him politically to name Samper. The general consensus among those whom I’ve talked to is that it was just a total blunder. But that’s rare coming from Uribe, who though I disagree with much of his policies is clearly one of the most skilled politicians in the world today.

    Samper was indeed president when the Cali cartel was brought down. He was also the president who gave the green light to aerial herbicide fumigation (which, in the end, hasn’t put any narco-traffickers out of business). Some of that anti-drug “toughness” came from Samper’s desire to show that he was not a tool of the cartels. Some came from a very unhealthy dynamic in which the U.S. government avoided most contact with Samper’s government, and chose to work directly with Colombia’s National Police. Gen. Serrano, the chief of police at the time, had much better access in Washington than did Colombia’s real ambassador, Juan Carlos Esguerra.

  6. Doppiafila Says:

    Why nominating Samper? In my opinion, Uribe did it in order to gain more “friends”, who can come useful in his second term. Having been President, Samper had 4 years to do whatever he wanted from Palacio de Nariño (and this usually includes putting friends in high positions, adjudging concessions to close enetrpreneurs, helping local politicians rise etc etc etc) – all this left him with some influence in the (relatively small) colombian society.
    Regards, Paolo

  7. richtiger Says:

    Adam wants an explanation of why Uribe thought the Samper nomination would be beneficial politically.
    Here is a thought from the June 12 editorial “Renuncias y revolcones” in El Tiempo.

    “Hay quienes piensan que el Presidente pretendía una carambola a tres bandas para evitar que acercamientos entre sectores uribistas como el de Germán Vargas y la bancada liberal oficialista (donde Samper tiene no pocos amigos) pusieran en peligro las mayorías gobiernistas en el Congreso. Pero la jugada no le salió y el retiro de Pastrana puede terminar debilitando el apoyo conservador al Gobierno. Gajes del billar político a tantas bandas.”

    I understand the literal meaning of the Spanish, that Uribe was trying to bolster his majority support in the Colombian Congress; but I don’t know enough about the context of Colombian politics and the Uribe coalition to understand the
    mechanics of the political ploy which the editor thinks Uribe may have been trying.

    Perhaps someone else can explain it to me.

  8. Colombia Hoy Says:

    Uribe offered the Colombian Embassy in France to Mr. Samper, just because one of the main rules of Colombia politics is to pay for services and favors. Mr. Samper was a very important player during the last presidential campaign, since he was able to bring several politicians from the Liberal Party to Mr. Uribe’s campaign. They have been associates for many years.

    Andres Pastrana lightened the crisis in order to block Mr. Samper nomination as an ambassador, and at the same time to prepare his landing into the Colombian politics as head of the Conservative Party.

  9. Rainer Cale Says:

    Taking into account the pasts of both men, the relationship between Uribe and Samper is potentially very very complex, and without inside information it doesn’t seem possible, at present, to offer the satisfying explanation that Adam is looking for.

    I don’t feel sufficiently read in this matter to speculate on the level of the El Tiempo article quoted by richtiger, but since the “sainthood” of Samper has been called into question, I would also like to draw attention to the “sainthood” of Pastrana as well. Pastrana’s ludicrous and grotesque moralistic posturing raises a big flag for me, given his own record of corruption, which is arguably more serious than Samper’s. There is (IMHO) a major element of quid pro quo CYA going on beneath the posturing.

  10. richtiger Says:

    Well, Pastrana raised the “morality question,” and Samper replied (in his refusal of the French ambassadorship), “yo no recibo sino le doy lecciones de etica al ex presidente Pastrana.”

    Translation: “I don’t take–I give lessons in ethics to ex-president Pastrana.”

    Although it’s at the edge of relevance for this thread (or beyond it), who are the relatively honest potential presidential candidates in Colombia today? Mockus? Cesar Gaviria? Carlos
    Gaviria?

    Don’t know much about any of them except Cesar Gaviria; but I notice they’re not being offerred any posts in the Uribe governing coalition.

  11. Rainer Cale Says:

    Colombia Hoy- Sounds good to me.

    Incidentally I saw Samper in the grocery store a couple months ago (I’m pretty sure it was him). I guess I missed my chance to clear up some of these questions.

  12. Galactus Says:

    Rainer: Carlos Gaviria declared, after the elections, that he wouldnt accept any post in Uribe’s gouvernment, and he asked the members of his party to do the same. (It is very rare to see that kind of ideological coherence in colombian politics..)

    jcg: Im not sure about that, it should be noted that Ingrid Betancour was extremly critic of Samperm and given her popularity, her opinion could have had some weight on France’s government attitude towards Samper… She basically denounced him as a totally corrupt politician in her book.

  13. richtiger Says:

    Well, as Adam has speculated, one of Pastrana’s reasons for resigning as ambassador is simply to return to Colombia and drum up support for a Pastrana presidencial candidacy in 2010. The July 14 edition of El Tiempo reports that on Wednesday and Thursday a veritable parade of conservative senators and representatives met with Pastrana to assure him of their support.

    Galactus’ sentiment about the lack of ideological coherence in Colombian politics was echoed by Carlos Gaviria on the Polo Democraticio web site.
    Gaviria remarked, “yo este incidente lo llamo la ’comedia de las equivocaciones’ porque pone de manifiesto la incoherencia y la falta de dignidad con que se manejan la cosas en Colombia en materia de política.”

    So, I guess it’s reasonable to conclude that Uribe’s nomination of Samper and Pastrana’s resignation as ambassador are just “politics as usual” among members of an elite more concerned with maintaining itself in power than in solving the problems of the country.

    One can only hope that the Polo Democratico continues to grow and prosper.

  14. Omar Says:

    That’s just politics as usual. Uribe is trying to please everybody, so they he can exercise higher influence on other politicians. I am not a fun of the other parties though. Colombia has the best it can for its current situation.

    Related to Chavez, the US is going to waste efforts trying to plot against a man that is widely popular in the lower classes of Latin America. The US should gnore him and show how market-driven economies works better that Chavez nationalized oil-driven economy. Thats a challenge in itself.

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