Alvaro Uribe's eight-year reign
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Alvaro Uribe’s mandate will end when Colombians hit the polls on 30 May to elect his successor. Despite two controversial terms in office, he still enjoys high approval ratings in the country. France 24 examines the highs and lows of his presidency.
Colombians will head to the polls on 30 May to choose a successor to President Alvaro Uribe Velez, in power since 2002.
Uribe’s two four-year terms generated controversy both at home and abroad. While most analysts agree that his defence strategy has succeeded in weakening the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and right-wing paramilitary groups, others criticize his government for corruption and human right abuses.
Eight years on, Uribe still enjoys high approval ratings; a poll by Invamer-Gallup in 2009 showed that 64% of Colombians approved of the Uribe government. His successor is expected to learn from and continue some of his policies, particularly those concerning national security. FRANCE24 looks back at the events that defined Uribe’s presidency.
May 2002: Right-wing candidate Alvaro Uribe Velez becomes the 39th president of Colombia, winning 53% of the vote. Uribe’s presidential campaign centred on a hard-line approach that proposed a stronger army to fight both drug-traffickers and the FARC.
November 2003: Uribe negotiates a peace deal with the outlawed, right-wing paramilitary group United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC). The AUC was created as an umbrella organisation in the 1980s to combat left-wing armed forces. Following the deal several paramilitary leaders and 31,000 of its members demobilised, exchanging arms for protection against extradition and reduced jail sentences. The deal has been highly criticized by human rights groups as amnesties were granted to many AUC members responsible for atrocities against civilians.
December 2004: For the first time in its history, Colombia’s congress approves an amendment to the 1991 constitution, allowing President Uribe to run for re-election in 2006.
April 2006: The “parapolitics” scandal erupts. Several congressmen and Uribe’s cabinet members face formal inquiries over alleged links with the AUC.
May 2006: Uribe wins the presidency for the second time, with 62% of the vote.
March 2008: Raul Reyes, a senior commander and the public face of FARC, is killed in a controversial Colombian cross-border military operation in Ecuadorean territory.
March 2008: The Colombian military’s incursion into Ecuador triggers a diplomatic spat between Uribe and his Ecuadorian counterpart, Rafael Correa. Correa’s strongest ally in the region, President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez enters the diplomatic battle, polarizing the region and threatening longstanding diplomatic and commercial ties.
April 2008: Colombians authorities arrested Mario Uribe, the president’s cousin and a close political ally, on charges of colluding with rightwing paramilitary groups.
July 2008: Colombian army forces free 15 high-profile hostages from FARC
captivity. Those rescued include former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who had been held in captivity for more than 6 years, and three American contractors. President Uribe confesses that members of the rescue team used the insignia of the International Red Cross during the operation as a decoy without authorisation from the organisation.
October 2008: The “false positives scandal” breaks. Colombian media discovers that poor, young men from the underprivileged Bogota neighbourhood of Ciudad Bolivar had been recruited and promised jobs in other regions of the country, only to be murdered in cold blood. The Colombian army later presented the corpses as rebels killed in combat.
July 2009: The Colombian government allows Washington to establish military bases in Colombian territory, drawing angry criticism from many South American countries including Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.
February 2010: A Colombian court rejects a proposed referendum on permitting President Uribe to run for a third term. Surprising some of his critics, Uribe accepts the court’s decision and cancels his presidential campaign.