“The snake lives,” Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is reported to have said after meeting Alan Jara, a former state governor recently released by the FARC guerrillas. The Colombian media took their President’s statement to mean the Leftist guerrillas but it could perhaps also have been Uribe’s way of referring to himself.
For there is no doubt that the sly and ruthless overlord of
Jara and Sigifredo López, former lawmaker and the last to be freed, were evidence of why Uribe had such misgivings. They criticised him for doing nothing for them, Jara saying Uribe and FARC needed each other. He praised Senator Cordoba, whom Uribe seriously detests, and López compared her to the heroine in José Saramago’s novel, Blindness, who retains her moral sense when others have lost theirs.
Their voices were heard through the self-censorship of the Colombian media. Both former prisoners put in articulate media performance and both are mainstream politicians, not fringe radicals. Jara was in the same party as Uribe. Even worse, Jara and López have promised to work for a humanitarian accord, the preferred slogan of the Colombian democratic opinion. Suddenly the peaceniks are bringing in the dividends, the civil war has become less appealing even to those Colombians sold on it and Uribe looks like an irascible bystander.
All this comes at a bad moment for Uribe as he bullies Congress to amend the Constitution that will make him eligible to run for a third term in office. It is now known that votes in the Congress allowing him to run for a second term were bought and many of his closest allies and others who voted for him are in prison for paramilitary links.
The tide began turning against the caudillo almost exactly a year ago after the trade unions and social organisations staged surprisingly large marches against paramilitary violence. Public sector workers went on a wave of strikes though 43 trade unionists paid with their lives in 2008. Indigenous Colombians, who are losing their land to large corporations and their lives to army and paramilitary violence, embarked on a ‘Minga’, a peaceful uprising culminating in a march by thousands covering several hundred kilometres to
Simultaneously, cane cutters working in near-slavery conditions went on strike, winning important concessions and lots of new members. Then the students began agitating against the government. After a series of hard knocks and the death of its fonder-leader, Manuel Marulanda, FARC seems to have stablised its forces.
With Obama rather than McCain replacing George Bush, Uribe has lost some of the supreme impunity. The economic downturn is hitting
The paramilitaries, supposedly “demobilised” after an agreement with the government, noticeably began reorganising in 2008. It is estimated by some that no more than a fifth of the 20,000-odd paramilitaries had actually demobilised and many of them returned to their old profession in the name of newer groups, now managing illicit businesses and extortion and kidnapping rackets.
None of this means that the Colombian ruling elite has lost its famed and historic blood lust. Nor does it mean that Uribe will not bare his fangs or draw blood or that the