Last week the largest party in the coalition backing Colombian President Ãlvaro Uribe approved a resolution calling on Uribe to run for an unprecedented third consecutive term in 2010. The “Party of the ‘U’” promised to gather the 1.3 millionsignatures necessary for a petition to amend Colombia’s constitution to allow Uribe to run again.
If Uribe’s popularity rating continues to hover at around 60-70 percent, as it has for five years, he very well could win again and serve until 2014. Though he hinted in September that he might not seek re-election in 2010, Uribe has been curiously silent about the “U” Party’s latest move.
There are many in Washington, CIP included, who believe that the United States has pursued an unbalanced, reckless, exceedingly militarized and ineffective strategy in Colombia. Most of us believe that as part of that strategy, the U.S. government has been too warm, unquestioning and uncritical in its public embrace of Ãlvaro Uribe.
If President Uribe wants to do us a great favor, if he wants to make our work in Washington far easier, he should absolutely run for a third term.
- If he stays for a third term, Ãlvaro Uribe’s stock would drop dramatically in U.S. public opinion. By laying bare Uribe’s inability to loosen his grip on power, by highlighting his refusal to let Colombia’s institutions develop and do their jobs, a new re-election effort would leave a terrible taste here. Even if Uribe continued to position himself as a close U.S. ally, those in Washington who have been concerned about his authoritarian tendencies would have their suspicions confirmed.
- Members of Colombia’s political class who have been waiting for Uribe to step aside and give them a turn would drop out of the president’s coalition – and become vocal critics with access to Washington opinionmakers.
- Surely, some in Washington would continue to back Uribe, if only because he isn’t Hugo ChÃ¡vez. But Uribe’s remaining U.S. backers would no longer be able to argue that the United States must support “Colombia’s Winston Churchill.” The more accurate analogy would become, perhaps, “Colombia’s Alberto Fujimori” – or in words attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt, “an S.O.B., but our S.O.B.”
- Should a third term become a serious possibility, continued U.S. assistance to Colombia – even economic aid – would become a much tougher sell. By 2010, the United States will probably have given Colombia $7 billion since Plan Colombia’s inception a decade earlier. After so much investment in “South America’s oldest democracy,” such strong evidence of that democracy’s degradation would place the entire policy in doubt. Future aid near today’s generous levels would be unlikely.
- And of course, if Washington is still considering a free-trade agreement at the same time Colombia is debating a constitutional re-election amendment, Uribe’s ambitions would only foster doubts about Colombia’s democratic credentials, working to the advantage of the agreement’s opponents here.
This scenario is still hypothetical – but the “U” Party certainly set it in motion last week. Let’s see where it goes.