Pay Back

Now that former Columbian President Alvaro Uribe is no longer serving his country, is he serving America?


Columbia has been one of the biggest recipients of US aid, pulling in over seven billion dollars worth of military aid despite having, what Noam Chomsky has called, “by far the worst human rights record in the hemisphere”. In return for that aid, Uribe has been America’s closest ally in Latin America for the past eight years. And now his time is up. Uribe failed to secure a constitutional amendment that would have allowed him to run for a third term. Just the suggestion of amending a constitution to permit a third term brought vicious media attacks and even coups against the leaders of Venezuela and Honduras: leaders who weren’t American allies in the region. That may be more evidence of the benefit of being loyal to America.


But as Uribe leaves his position of power in Columbia, his name is suddenly appearing everywhere. And the appearances appear to form a constellation of pay backs. Uribe seems to be working for America now.


In October of 2009, in his final year in office, Uribe concluded a secret deal with America, granting her seven military, naval and air bases in Columbia that are capable of conducting, according to the US air force, “full-spectrum operations throughout South America”. That’s a big gift to give at the end of your relationship. And Columbians aren’t happy about having to give it. Uribe never brought the deal to congress, so the Columbian congress never approved it, as Columbian law requires. Columbia’s constitutional court has recently ruled the agreement unconstitutional and sent it to congress to approve or reject. In order to give his present to America, Uribe had to attempt to go behind the backs of his people. But the people caught him.


The second gift Uribe tried to deliver to America is the continuation of his hostility to Hugo Chavez and Venezuela beyond his term. Chavez is American enemy number one in Latin America. But Uribe’s successor has been signaling his intention to ease opposition to Chavez and work to establish peace between the two neighbouring countries. Such a peace would not be consistent with America’s desire to isolate and oppose Chavez. So just a few days before exiting office, Uribe accused Chavez of harbouring 1,500 Columbian guerillas on the Venezuelan side of the border, creating a conflict between the two nations that his successor would inherit.


The accusation and the timing are odd. It has brought a chorus of condemnation from Latin American leaders, including Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador. Latin American expert Mark Weisbrot says that guerillas have been crossing the 2,000km Columbian/Venezuelan border for decades. Its jungles and mountains render it difficult to control. But he says that there is no evidence of any change to warrant the Columbian attack. There is no evidence of any recent escalation in border crossings and no evidence that Venezuela supports any of the insurgents. He adds that Venezuela has extradited guerillas back to Columbia in the past.


Venezuela says that Columbia has equally failed to adequately supervise the border and has pointed out the extreme difficulty of doing so when most of the border is jungle. The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, where the charge was made, agrees. Jose Insulza confirms that guerillas come and go across the border and that it is unfair to hold only one of the two countries responsible for controlling it. He points out that Columbia has been unable to secure it also.


Having offered America its land for military bases and continued hostility to Chavez beyond his term, Uribe’s name turned up yet one more time recently. When the United Nations named its panel to investigate the Israeli killings of Turkish civilians aboard the Gaza bound flotilla, Uribe’s name turned up as vice chair. The panel is chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister, Geoffrey Palmer, and also includes one Israeli and one Turk. Do the math. The Israeli and the Turkish member will cancel each other out. So, if Uribe remains loyal to his benefactor, then depending on how Palmer leans, the worst America’s Israeli ally can do is a draw.


Is Uribe being called upon to pay off his debt? Bases, Venezuela and Israel. Is that the pay back price for US support? If it is, then Uribe has paid back what he owes. And, as a thank you, America has promised to take care of him in his life after the Presidency, just as it did in his life during the presidency. Uribe has just received a teaching post at Georgetown University in Washington DC as “Distinguished Scholar in the Practice of Global Leadership”.

Leave a comment