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at the water's edge
Álvaro Uribe Vélez was the democratically elected president of the Republic of Colombia from 2002 to 2010. He is considered a strong ally of the United States, and of ex-president George W. Bush in particular. This is at least in part due to the Colombian government's need for military aid in fighting the leftist rebels known as FARC. Before Uribe became the president, he was a collaborator of the Medellín Cartel, and a friend of Pablo Escobar Gaviria and was financed with narcotrafficking money early in his political career.
Much of his popularity is due to the hard line he has taken against FARC, which had lost whatever public support it had gained when it sabotaged earlier peace attempts. Many of his actions have been controversial, particularly when he assumed emergency powers and allowed police to stop and search anyone in certain "combat zones." However, these powers were stripped from him by the Colombian Constitutional Court. While Uribe has since adjusted his plans, they have not yet come into full compliance with that Court.
His corrupt government has been linked to paramilitary death squads in rural parts of Colombia. These death squads, covertly supported by both the Colombian government and military, have been implicated in hundreds of massacres of unarmed civilians who were suspected of being guerrillas or guerrilla sympathizers. No concrete proof is required for the death squads to engage in brutal massacres, only mere suspicion. In addition to killing men, the paramilitaries have also engaged in the rape of women and killing of children. The paramilitaries have also been involved in the assassination of union leaders.
Uribe has made some attempts at ending the paramilitaries, mostly through allowing militants (on both sides) to become normal civilians again. Some of these have instead become part of the drug cartels.
He changed the constitution to allow him to serve another consecutive term in office. Strangely, this did not cause the howls of protest from the US and the "international community" that happened when Hugo Chávez did the exact same thing in Venezuela. Neither did it cause a coup d'etat as later happened in Honduras.
Uribe and the United States
Despite his horrendous human rights record, Uribe was Bush's closest ally in Latin America. Colombia is currently the most right-wing country in the region and has so far resisted Latin America's recent shift to the left. The assassination of many progressive and left-wing candidates in years gone by has helped Colombia maintain a right-wing and US-friendly authoritarian regime. Colombia is the third-largest recipient of US aid after Israel and Egypt.
Uribe and his neighbours
Despite his hardline views, Uribe has a cordial relationship with his neighbours and bears no personal animosity towards Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, despite polar opposite political views.
- He won his re-election campaign with 62 percent of the vote, and regularly polls higher than any other Latin American leader. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/29/world/americas/29colombia.html
- Yes, that Pablo Escobar. Sourced from declassified U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency documents from 1991, although Uribe and his supporters dispute this. See: https://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/02/world/91-us-report-calls-colombian-leader-ally-of-drug-lords.html
- Freedom House, http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=22&country=7156&year=2007 It should be noted that Freedom House rates Colombia as "partly free," with a score of 3, with 1 being completely free and 7 completely unfree. For reference, Venezuela has a 4.