Colombia’s strongman

By Felix Salmon
May 20, 2009

Here’s a measure of how important Nouriel Roubini has become of late, according to his Twitter, he’s just met with president Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and his (entire?) cabinet.

Nouriel’s right that the big debate in the country is about whether to let Uribe run for an unconstitutional third term; he doesn’t mention (you can’t blame him, he only has 140 characters) that even Uribe’s second term was unconstitutional until he had the constitution changed in 2005 to allow him to run for president again.

Uribe’s very popular, and at the margin a good president for Colombia. But third terms — even constitutional ones — rarely end well, and the longer that a strong president like Uribe stays in power, the harder it becomes for civil institutions to emerge — you get closer and closer to a “L’État, c’est Moi” state of affairs. Uribe will probably get his third term. But I hope the OAS — and the State Department — are bold enough to object.


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I’m particularly wary of changing rules like that with a particular person in mind. I’m going back and forth on Bloomberg. I like him, I think he’s doing a great job particularly with the schools, but my first instinct was “Washington wouldn’t, Lincoln couldn’t, Bloomberg shouldn’t.” And quite possibly Uribe, too.

Right on, Uribe might be popular, but he has weakened Colombia’s democratic institutions and is essentially a right-wing caudillo. He needs to step down so teh country can have a future.

Posted by bender | Report as abusive

The little snipe of Uribe being good ‘at the margin’ says it all: The Left has never liked Uribe, never wanted him in there in the first place, and always thought he was wrong to fight FARC instead of engage in endless ‘peace processes’ just like all the failures that came before him. Colombians don’t want that. Until Reuters and all its leftist friends can admit that Uribe has been objectively a great president, Colombians will cling to the only man who ever made them feel safe. Anyone else will go with what the international community wants, give FARC a Switzerland-sized piece of land, all in the interest of ‘peace’ you see, and leave Colombians to FARC’s car bombs and kidnappings. The whole appeasement process has to be discredited before Colombians can let go of Uribe. The sooner the left admits that, the better. The less likely Uribe will need a second term as the only person out there who will put Colombians first and bother to protect them.

Alvaro Uribe is immensely popular in Colombia. His approval ratings are in the low 90s. The Colombian people overwhelmingly want him to take on a third term. Those who have a different opinion and do not live in Colombia, have no clue as to the reality of how daily life has dramatically improved in Colombia under Alvaro Uribe.

Posted by Carlos | Report as abusive

But I hope the OAS — and the State Department — are bold enough to object.

Is that not a little bit arrogant? Is there any evidence at all that the State Department have any decent insight into what’s good for foreigners, least of all Latin Americans.

Maybe a third term for Uribe would be good for the Colombian people. History does indeed indicate that it might not. Roosevelt by all accounts had lost much of his impetus by his third term, but it didn’t turn out too badly. Either way, in a democracy, it’s a question for Colombian voters. Foreigners who wish Colombia well (or ill) are entitled to their opinions of Colombians’ democratic choices, but governments should butt out.

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive

I agree that institutions need to be strenghthened in any country, especially Colombia, and are that they are the basis of a democratic society. Having said that, you need to look at the progress that our country has made in the recent past to make a better judgement of wheteher Uribe should be able to run again.

Here we have the case of a very, very, popular president who has enjoyed a range of 60% – 80% popularity during his two terms in office. In the Latin American region that´s outstanding! This isn´t due to oil money being thrown at the masses (our neighboor´s case), but the result of a genuine resurgence of safety, economic prosperity, as well as an improved international image of Colombia. Just look at the amount of foreign investment in the last couple years ranging above $10BN per year vs $2BN when Uribe took office. All these statistics are a testimony that things such as property rights and a proper legal system are attracting foreigners and bringing investment to the country. Look at the drop in murder rates and growth of the domestic and intl turism. And there are many more measures which measure development that have improved.

In any case, the amendment is by public referendum and luckily, even if Uribe doesn´t succeed, his former defense minister, who has a similar agenda has no obstacles and is similarly popular among Colombians due to tangible results in safety.

I hope poeple outside the country such as the OAS don´t try to impose their will on Colombians. Let them monitor any process to garanty democracy but, let´s choose our road to development. It not eveyday that such a successfull president is elected in Latin America.


Posted by Angela Perez | Report as abusive

Uribe is an immensely popular and monumentally great president, and the saviour of the Columbian people from the FARC terrorists. He absolutely deserves a third term.

Posted by | Report as abusive

As an American living and working in Medellin, I can say that Uribe has transformed this once horrifically violent country into one that even my 70-year old parents enjoyed just last week. I do however think that Uribe should respect the Colombian constitution (unlike the animals in Venezuela, Honduras and Nicaragua)and reject a run at a third term.