Monday, September 14, 2009

President Alvaro Uribe: Latin America's Double Standard

One of the great sins of Hugo Chavez, other than angering white American conservatives by calling their president the 'devil', is overstaying his term limit welcome, winning a referendum to run for reelection. The response amongst the brahmins and compradors, and upper income European elites everywhere in the region, was instantaneous and not at all surprising. At the behest of their brethren, they held a series of wealth strikes and demonstrations against the dictatorial evils of reelection, as well as socialism or anything that remotely appeals to people without control over the economic resources of society.

Like with Batista and Pinochet, the right-wing in Latin America, even more than in the US, has a long and selected memory when it comes to democracy and human rights. In essence, it only seems to matter to them when they are not in power. After losing an election, no matter how democratic, they instantly become fanatical supporters of the use of military coups to re-obtain and maintain political and economic control over their polities. Notice, not a single demonstrator at the anti-Chavez rallies said a thing about the very real crushing of dissent in Honduras, where the upper income sponsors decided to vacate the results of the voters by having the armed forces depose its president. Indeed, the right's favorite democratically-elected leader in Latin America, Colombian President Uribe, is admittedly "sympathetic" to the military coup in Honduras. No, they choose the one place where democracy and socialism most interacts, where a 'repressed' upper crest of society responds to the results by trying their own coup (back in 2002) and, when that fails, running off to the US to lobby the American government on the behalf of wealthy European folk everywhere.

No better exemplar of this wealth hypocrisy in democratic politics persists than in Colombia, a country racked by nearly five decades of civil war, in which the military and military-backed paramilitary groups have committed nearly 90% of the killings, to which the government has decided to dedicate its resources to crushing the ones responsible for the other 10%. These are what the folks at The Weekly Standard call 'narcoterrorists.' Not the ones in the AUC, mind you, or the the Medellin cartel, which has been strong backers of President Uribe (and whose home rests in the middle of the cartel's power base), well, the rules do not apply to them. Those are the 'freedom fighters.' You see, they kill the right people, the reward of which we shall all soon see coming to fruition in this hapless nation.

Colombian lawmakers OK referendum on Uribe third term

(CNN) -- Colombia's House of Representatives overwhelmingly has approved a measure that could allow President Alvaro Uribe to run for a third term next year.

The 85-5 vote late Tuesday would let Colombians vote on a referendum on whether a president can serve three consecutive terms.

The Senate passed a similar bill August 19. The measure now goes to the Colombian constitutional court for approval.

Supporters hope to have the measure on the ballot in congressional elections scheduled for March.

The relevant part of the measure states, "Whoever has been elected president of the republic for two constitutional terms can be elected solely for one other term."

Uribe, a conservative, was elected in 2002 to a single four-year term allowed by the 1991 constitution. He won a constitutional amendment in 2005 that let him run for a second term in May 2006.

Uribe has not indicated whether he would run again in May for a third four-year term if voters approve the referendum, but many analysts expect he would. He retains high voter approval ratings, and no strong challengers have emerged.

Colombia's measure follows similar recent moves in other Latin American countries.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won a referendum in February that will allow the leftist leader to run for a third six-year term in 2012. Venezuelan voters had rejected the same measure in December 2007.

In Bolivia, leftist President Evo Morales won a constitutional referendum in January and congressional approval in April to run for re-election in December.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa also won passage of a new constitution last year that could allow him to rule until 2017. Correa won election in 2006 and will be allowed to run again in a special election this year under the new constitution. A referendum approved this year would allow him to run for another four-year term in 2013.

Other leftist leaders in the region also have eyed constitutional amendments that would allow them to run for office again.

Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya was ousted in June on the same day that citizens were scheduled to vote on a measure that would have allowed a referendum on this year's November presidential ballot. The referendum would have let voters decide whether to hold a constitutional assembly to do away with presidential term limits.

The nation's congress and supreme court ruled the June vote illegal, but Zelaya vowed to hold it anyway. Coup leaders said they overthrew Zelaya because he was maneuvering to stay in power illegally. Zelaya's term, however, would have ended in January before a constitutional assembly could have met.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has indicated he, too, would like a constitutional referendum to seek another term.

In a separate matter in Colombia, Uribe said on his Web page he is recovering from his bout with H1N1 flu and expects to return to normal duties Thursday. Uribe became ill after attending a summit in Argentina on Friday.

He is the second Latin American leader to contract swine flu. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias also reported being infected last month but apparently has recovered.

Just what kind of murderous thug is President Uribe? After graduating from Harvard, not unlike many children of foreign elites with political designs back home, Alvaro returned to Colombia and began a friendship and business relationship with organized crime, including to drug lord Pablo Escobar (whose hobbies included personally executing any and all of his business and political opponents [there is no way Uribe could have been ignorant of this back in the '80s, when everyone knew what the consequences were of facilitating the drug trade in Colombia]). Had Mr. Uribe committed his pre-presidential crimes in a place like China or Indonesia, he would have faced a prosecution and early departure into the hereafter. Colombian politics, however, operates on a different scale. This is also the same man who ordered his military to invade and bomb rebels (granted, of the leftist variety, not the Medellin crime family who supports him) in neighboring Ecuador. Imagine what the response would have been from the millionaires of Latin America and Fox 'news' if President Chavez ordered the bombing of the Medellin family's home base. We might well have gone to war with Venezuela. Not against Uribe, of course.

This is not to say all is well in Venezuela. Its dependence on oil is going to eventually cost Venezuela dearly, as it already has this last year when its national budget was slashed to meet with falling oil revenues from the 2008 global recession. The single-industry nature of its economy will only support socialism inasmuch as Americans and Chinese purchase its oil. Moreover, as democratically-elected as Chavez may be, he has shut down t.v. stations of his opponents (clearly based on political considerations). He has respected the results and votes he lost, most prominently the constitutional referendum that went against President Chavez back in 2007, but in democracies you or your party will one day lose. How will he respond to an election that goes against him at the national level? Any honest person, even those of us on the left, cannot say with any confidence because of the station shutdowns.

Still, if I had to choose between losing a station, or having a drug kingpin and militarist who invades and attacks neighboring countries as my reelected leader, I do not think it would be much of a choice. It is sad that we have yet to get ourselves to the point where all sides can accept and play by the same rules (and accept the results without bombing, conspiring to violently overthrow, or shutting each other down). Then again, one can not so easily prejudge ideologues south of the border, when compared to the ones in the US who want to assassinate our president for breathing in the general direction of those who do not look like them.

I am sure somewhere downstairs Augusto Pinochet is looking up with a smile on his face.

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