Álvaro Uribe Vélez (born July 4, 1952 in Medellín), is a Colombian politician and lawyer who is currently the 39th President of the Republic of Colombia for the term 2006 – 2010. Uribe finished Law in the University of Antioquia, then he did a course in management at Harvard University. After he finished his period as governor of Antioquia in 1998, he won the Simón Bolívar Scholarship of the British Council and was nominated Senior Associate Member at the Saint Antony's College in the University of Oxford.
As a politician he has been in the Medellín Public Enterprises (Empresas Públicas de Medellín), in the Ministry of Labor and in the Civil Aeronautic. He was also mayor of Medellín in 1982, Senator (1986 – 1994) and later Governor of Antioquia State (1995 – 1997). He was elected President of Colombia in 2002.
As President, he led a program of government he called the “Policy of Democratic Security”. During his presidency, the paramilitary groups agreed to follow a peace process and gave up their guns, the Communist guerrillas reduced their space of action in Colombia and he spearheaded several Free Trade Agreements with different countries.
Álvaro Uribe is the first of five children born to Alberto Uribe Sierra, a wealthy landowner and cattle rancher, and Laura Vélez, a former councilwoman. When Uribe was ten, his family moved to Medellín from their Salgar ranch. He studied in Jesuit and Benedictine schools, graduating in 1970 from the Jorge Robledo Institute, where his academic performance exempted him from all final exams during the last two years of school.
Uribe studied at the University of Antioquia, earning a law degree in 1977, and became a member of the Colombian Liberal Party's "Liberal Youth" wing there. He was awarded a scholarship for excellence during his time at university.
In 1993 he finished a post-graduate certificate in administration and management at the Harvard University. From 1998 to 2000, he studied at St Antony's College, Oxford University in England, on a British Council Simón Bolívar scholarship .
He is married to Lina Moreno de Uribe and has two sons, Tomás Uribe and Jerónimo Uribe.
Uribe's father was assassinated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas during a 1983 kidnapping attempt. Álvaro Uribe sold most of his inherited rural properties and concentrated on his political career as a member of the Colombian Liberal Party. He served on the Medellín city council between 1984 and 1986.
He was elected governor of the department of Antioquia for the 1995 to 1997 term. During his term, Uribe put in practice what he termed the model for a communitarian state, where in theory citizens would participate in the administration's decision making. It was claimed that this model would help improve employment, education, administrative transparency and public security.
According to statistics provided by the governor's office and contemporary analysts, his governorship would reduce bureaucracy, create places for school students, strengthen the infrastructure, and the kidnapping rate fell dramatically. It is claimed that 1,200,000 poor people entered the subsidized health system.cooperative neighborhood watch groups that became known as CONVIVIR, which had been created by a February 11, 1994 decree of Colombia's Ministry of Defense. The groups quickly became controversial – while some reportedly improved security in communities and intelligence coordination with the military, many members apparently abused civilians, without serious oversight of their operations. In 1998, Human Rights Watch stated: "we have received credible information that indicated that the CONVIVIR groups of the Middle Magdalena and of the southern Cesar regions were directed by known paramilitaries and had threatened to assassinate Colombians that were considered as guerrilla sympathizers or which rejected joining the cooperative groups".
After much political debate, in November 1997 the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that CONVIVIR members could not gather intelligence information or use military-grade weapons; other restrictions included more legal supervision. 237 restricted weapons were returned to authorities by the end of 1997. In early 1998, dozens of groups had their licenses revoked because they did not turn in their weapons or information about their personnel. Due to these measures, some gradually turned in weapons and phased themselves out. Other members did not comply and later joined paramilitary groups such as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).
Uribe ran as an independent liberal candidate, having unofficially separated from his former party. His electoral platform centered on confronting Colombia's main guerrilla movement, the FARC. Other relevant propositions included slashing the national administration's expenses, fighting corruption and a national referendum to resolve several of the country's political and economic concerns.
Until at least 2001, polls showed that at most 2% of the electorate contemplated voting for Uribe and that the Liberal Party's Horacio Serpa would probably win. But public mood shifted in his favor after the peace process with the guerrillas degenerated. The administration of President Andrés Pastrana had failed for four years to secure a ceasefire, and Álvaro Uribe began to be seen as the candidate who may provide a viable security program. Former General Harold Bedoya, a candidate with a superficially similar program, remained marginalized.
Uribe was elected President of Colombia in the first round of the 26 May 2002 elections with 53% of the popular vote. His running mate was Francisco Santos, a member of the Santos family, who have a long-lasting tradition as members of the Colombian Liberal Party and as owners of Colombian daily newspaper El Tiempo. Santos was also one of the founders of the anti-kidnapping NGO Fundación País Libre, created shortly after his own experience as a hostage of drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Observers considered the elections mostly free of foul play at the national level, but there were instances of active intimidation of voters and candidates, by the actions of guerrilla and paramilitary groups. 47% of the potential electorate voted, down from the previous round of voting.
Some of Uribe's opponents made accusations during his campaign, especially in a speech by Horacio Serpa and a book published by Newsweek's Joseph Contreras, who interviewed Uribe that year. Claims centered on Uribe's alleged past personal relationships with members of the Medellín Cartel and the sympathy that some paramilitary spokesmen expressed towards Uribe as a candidate. Uribe and his supporters denied or undermined these claims, and critics have not committed to legal action.
Uribe and his cabinet members travel outside Bogotá on weekends and, as part of the communitarian state model, organize weekly communitarian councils in every department, even remote regions of Colombia. The stated objective of these councils is to promote citizen participation and exchange direct feedback with local authorities, publicly hearing and discussing their concerns. These sessions are shown live on a public state television channel for several hours. Uribe's supporters widely believe that these councils have contributed to varying degrees of advancement in the resolution of local issues by simplifying "red tape". The councils are credited with keeping Uribe's popularity levels and reinforcing his image of a hardworking, plain-speaking politician.
Sympathizers consider that Uribe has achieved significant results in the fight against illegal armed groups, allowing civilian traffic to return to many roads abandoned during the 1990s. They believe he has tried to implement macroeconomic measures to stimulate internal commerce, growth and reduce unemployment, although he has not passed important bills such as a structural tax reform.
However, many of Uribe's opponents believe that his popularity may be overestimated and that most polls under-represent the opinions of poor voters who have no access to telephone lines or other standard polling methods, and may be less supportive of his administration. Some believe that Uribe has not done enough to address Colombia's problems or has contributed to them, and that the security and human rights situations still remain considerably fragile. A number of critics also consider Uribe's use of charisma during the councils a form of populism that, along with his general policies, may lead to lapses of authoritarianism on his part. Uribe has not done anything that openly violates Colombia's constitution or laws, though he supported a congressional modification of the constitution from 2004 to 2005 which reintroduced presidential reelection in the country.
Uribe has stated that the government must first show military superiority in order to eventually make the guerrillas return to the negotiating table with a more flexible position, even if this would only happen after his term in office expired. Early in his government, he was quoted as saying that Colombia's main concerns are now the challenges of terrorism and the narcotics trade. In a dialog with BBC's "Talking Point", Uribe stated: "Of course we need to eliminate social injustice in Colombia but what is first? Peace. Without peace, there is no investment. Without investment, there are no fiscal resources for the government to invest in the welfare of the people.
His security program is based on the application of what has been termed a policy of democratic security, aiming to:
The policy intends to achieve these goals by:
In early 2002, Uribe's administration decreed a one-time tax of 1.2% of the liquid assets of the higher income Colombians and corporations, with the goal of raising US $800 million. More than $650 million was collected before the final payment quota was made, surpassing original expectations. Another goal was to increase defense expenditures from a current level of about 3.6% of GDP to 6% of GDP by 2006.
This policy has been considered controversial inside and outside Colombia, including by Uribe's political opponents and by some human rights organizations, because it allegedly provides an exclusively military perspective to the situation and places the civilian population at risk, increasing the dangers of abuses both by military forces, paramilitaries and guerrillas.
According to official government statistical information from August 2004, in two years, homicides, kidnappings, and terrorist attacks in Colombia decreased by as much as 50% - their lowest levels in almost 20 years. In 2003, there were 7,000 fewer homicides than in 2002 - a decrease of 27%. By April 2004, the government had established a permanent police or military presence in every Colombian municipality for the first time in decades.
The Colombian Embassy in Washington states that, as a result of this policy, the Colombian armed forces would now have: "60% more combat ready soldiers than four years ago; Helicopters which have significantly improved the mobility of Armed Forces throughout the national territory; Attack helicopters ensuring means to be more aggressive in the fight against FARC and AUC; Increased basic combat supplies, including rifles and ammunition; and [has received] significant less human rights complaints against them."
Many analysts tend to accept that there have been some factual improvements in security and to a lesser degree human rights, but question the exact validity and application of some of the statements. They point out that serious problems remain, especially related to paramilitaries. In January 2005, Human Rights Watch stated: "Paramilitary groups maintain close ties with a number of Colombian military units. The Uribe administration has yet to take effective action to break these ties by investigating and prosecuting high-ranking members of the armed forces credibly alleged to have collaborated with paramilitary groups. Credible reports indicate that some of the territories from which the military has ejected the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionarias de Colombia, FARC) are now under the control of paramilitary groups, which continue to carry out indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population.
A February 2005 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the year 2004 stated: "Achievements and advances were observed in the field of human rights and international humanitarian law; however, there were also difficulties and contradictions...Progress was recorded in terms of prevention and protection, including strengthening of the mechanism of community defenders and the early warning system, as well as regarding the Ministry of the Interior’s programs for the protection of vulnerable groups. Weaknesses persisted in the Government’s responses to warnings, as well as in decreasing risk factors for vulnerable groups. The Government adopted positive measures regarding the destruction of stored anti-personnel mines. The armed forces occasionally carried out operations in which they failed to observe humanitarian principles.
An anti-terror statute criticized by many human rights groups was approved by Congress on December 11, 2003 but was struck down in August 2004 by the Colombian Constitutional Court during its review. The statute granted the military judicial police rights and allowed limited arrests and communication intercepts without warrants. It was struck down due to an error in the approval procedure, an objection the court has also presented towards other bills. Analysts speculated that Uribe's administration would try to re-introduce a similar bill, though it has not yet.
He is also recognized as a supporter of the US war on terror, and the invasion of Iraq. In January 2003, President Uribe ended a radio interview by asking "why isn't there any thought of [making] an equivalent deployment [as in the invasion of Iraq] to put an end to this problem [the Colombian conflict], which has such potentially grave consequences?".
In a November 22 visit to the coastal city of Cartagena, US President George W. Bush stood by the results of President Uribe's security policies and declared he would continue to provide Plan Colombia aid in the future: "My nation will continue to help Colombia prevail in this vital struggle. Since the year 2000, when we began Plan Colombia, the United States has provided more than $3 billion in vital aid. We'll continue providing aid. We've helped Colombia to strengthen its democracy, to combat drug production, to create a more transparent and effective judicial system, to increase the size and professionalism of its military and police forces, to protect human rights, and to reduce corruption. Mr. President, you and your government have not let us down. Plan Colombia enjoys wide bipartisan support in my country, and next year I will ask our Congress to renew its support so that this courageous nation can win its war against narco-terrorists.
The Uribe administration has maintained generally positive diplomatic relations with Spain and most Latin American nations. It signed several accords, including one in 2004 for the joint construction of a pipeline with Venezuela, a security and anti-drug trafficking cooperation deal with Paraguay in 2005, a commercial and technological cooperation agreement with Bolivia in 2004, a defense agreement with Spain (which was modified in 2004 but still remained valid), and economic and cultural agreements with the People's Republic of China in April 2005.
Several analysts consider that, being a relative ally of the USA, Uribe would be ideologically opposed to left wing governments in Latin America and elsewhere. Yet, Uribe has participated in multilateral meetings and has held bilateral summits with presidents Hugo Chávez, Martín Torrijos, Lula da Silva, Ricardo Lagos, and Carlos Mesa, among others. Colombia has also maintained diplomatic relations with Cuba and the People's Republic of China.
There have been some diplomatic incidents and crises with Venezuela during his term, in particular around the 2005 Rodrigo Granda affair, Colombia's frustrated 2004 acquisition of 46 AMX-30 tanks from Spain, and an Alleged planned Venezuelan coup in 2004 by Colombian paramilitaries. These internationally worrying circumstances have been ultimately resolved through the use of official diplomatic channels and bilateral presidential summits (in the first two cases).
International law enforcement cooperation has been maintained with countries such as the USA, Spain, the United Kingdom, México, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Panama, Paraguay, Honduras and Brazil among others.
Uribe's government, along with Peru and Ecuador, negotiated and (with Peru) signed a free trade agreement with the US. On December 30, 2005, President Uribe signed a free trade agreement (FTA) with Mercosur and gives Colombian products preferential access to the market of 230 million people. Trade negotiations have also been underway with Mexico, Chile, the Andean community and the USA over its current proposal.
The government's High Advisor for Social Policy, Juan Lozano, stated in February 2005 that the administration had by 2004 achieved an increase of 5 million affiliates to the subsidized health system (3.5 million added in 2004, for a total of 15.4 M affiliates), an increase of 2 million Colombians that receive meals and care through the Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF) (for a total of 6.6 million), an increase of 1.7 million education slots in the National Service of Learning (SENA) (for a total of 2.7 million), an increase of 157% in the amount of microcredit available to small entrepreneurs, a reduction of unemployment from 15.6% in December 2002 to 12.1% by December 2004, the addition of almost 200,000 new houses to existing housing projects for the poor, a total of 750,000 new school slots in primary and high school, some 260,000 new university slots, the return of 70,000 displaced persons to their homes (under an 800% increase in the budget assigned to this matter), and support for a program that seeks to increase economic subsidies from 170,000 to 570,000 of the elderly by the end of the term.
The High Advisor added that a "colossal effort" is still required and work must continue, and that this progress would constitute a sign of the Uribe administration's positive effects on social indicators.
Companies such as Carbocol, Telecom Colombia, Bancafé, Minercol and others, which were either already in crisis or considered by the government as overly expensive to maintain under their current spending conditions, were among those restructured or privatized.
Most direct critics have considered Uribe's administration neoliberal, and argued that it has not addressed the root causes of poverty and unemployment, because continued application of traditional trade and tax policies tend to benefit private and foreign investors over small owners and workers. Union and labor claim that many of the privatizations and liquidations have been done to please the IMF, the World Bank and multinational companies, and will hurt several national industries in the long run. Supporters of Uribe counter these claims by pointing to the rising per capita GDP, fast and sustainable economic growth, low inflation, rising wages, lower public debt, lower unemployment and increased social expenditures of Uribe's government.
A national referendum was promoted during Uribe's campaign and later modified by Congress and judicial review. The ability to revoke Congress was removed, as was the option to vote "Yes" or "No" as a whole. The modified proposal was defeated at the polls on October 25, 2003, and several left-wing candidates opposed to the referendum were victorious at regional elections the following day. At least 25% of the electorate needed to vote on each of the 15 proposals in order it to be accepted, but overall participation was only 24.8% and only the first proposal ("political death for the corrupt") achieved this. All 15 proposals were approved by a substantial majority of those who voted.
Analysts considered these events a political setback for President Uribe, as one of his main campaign propositions had failed, despite his personal leadership. The "active abstention" and blank voting campaigns that his opponents, in particular the Independent Democratic Pole and the Colombian Liberal Party, had promoted were allegedly successful in convincing enough of their sympathizers to stay home and instead participate in the next day's round of elections.
A number of Uribe's own supporters did not participate, as they found the referendum, which had been modified by Congress and later by the Judicial branch, to be too complex, long and uninspiring. Some also pointed out that extraordinary electoral initiatives (that is, those voted outside standard electoral dates) have traditionally suffered complications in Colombia, including a lack of participation.
In September 2003, Uribe issued a speech that contained allegations against what he called "agents of terrorism" inside a minority of human rights organizations, while at the same time declaring that he respected criticism from most other established organizations and sources. Similar statements were later repeated in other instances. These statements were sharply criticized inside and outside Colombia because they could endanger the work of human rights and opposition figures. In light of this stance and his family's background as wealthy cattle ranchers, critics reiterated allegations of his past ties to narcotics traffickers and paramilitaries.
Contacts begun in 2002 with the paramilitary AUC forces and their leader Carlos Castaño, which had publicly expressed their will to declare a cease-fire, continued in 2003 amid a degree of national and international controversy.
See also: 2003-2004: Initial negotiation efforts
In 2004, Uribe successfully sought a Congressional amendment to the Colombian Constitution of 1991 which, if approved by the Colombian Constitutional Court, would allow him to run for a second term as president. Uribe originally had expressed his disagreement with consecutive reelection during his campaign, but later changed his mind, first at a private level and later in public appearances.
Many analysts considered that, in order to secure the approval of this reform, Uribe may have slacked on his campaign promises, because of what has been perceived as his indirect bribing of congressmen, through the alleged assignment of their relatives to the diplomatic corps and through promises of investment in their regions of origin. Uribe's supporters consider that no actual bribing took place, and that a consensus among the diverse sectors that back Uribe's policies in Congress had to be reached through political negotiation.
The amendment permitting a single reelection was approved by Congress in December 2004, and by the Constitutional Court in October 2005.
After some of the AUC's main leaders had declared a cease-fire and agreed to concentrate in Santa Fe de Ralito, several paramilitary demobilizations began in earnest, thousands of their "rank and file" fighters were disarmed and incorporated into government rehabilitation programs late in 2004. The main AUC leaders, who would be held responsible for atrocities, remained in the concentration zone and continued talks with the government's High Commissioner for Peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo. A number of the paramilitary members who initially demobilized in Medellín apparently did not actually belong to the AUC and this caused public concern. The AUC commanders claimed, as the year ended, that they had difficulties controlling all of their personnel from their isolated position, that they had already demobilized some 20% of their forces, and that they would await for the drafting of the necessary legal framework before making any more significant moves.
In 2005 President Uribe and Colombia's congressmen prepared for the elections held in May and March 2006 respectively.
FARC, which some had been perceived as relatively passive, in February began to show signs of what analysts considered renewed vigor. It made a series of attacks against small military units, which left at least three dozen casualties. Uribe said in a speech that FARC remained strong and had never retreated, and he credited Colombia's soldiers for previous successes against FARC activities. He also said that he considers FARC to be cowards, because they hurt civilian targets during their ambushes.
Negotiations with the AUC also increased public anxiety. Discussions continued about the legal provisions to assure "justice, reparation and truth" after a full demobilization. Also according to many observers, paramilitary activity continued despite AUC's declared cease-fire, albeit at a reduced rate. The demobilizations were renewed in November and finished in the complete disbandment of the group by middle February 2007, although some of the paramilitary units rejected disbandment and returned to criminal activity. These groups became known as the Black Eagles. This group is relatively small in comparison to the AUC and haven't been able to achieve the notoriety or the military power of their predecessor, but are present on some former paramilitary areas, like Catatumbo and Choco.
The Colombian congress agreed to prosecute AUC leaders under the controversial Ley de Justicia y Paz, by which the paramilitary leaders would receive reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony and declarations of their entire criminal activity: links with drug dealers, assassinations, disappearances and massacres. These declarations are to be brought before an specialized judge, in a public hearing attended by the victims. The paramilitary leaders are also forced to "repair" the damage caused to the victims or their families: By disclosing the location of mass graves and by repaying each of them through economic assistance. As of 2008, these public hearings are still under way.
In 2004, Uribe's political supporters amended the constitution to allow him to run for a second term, previously proscribed by the Colombian constitution, and his own decision to run for a second term was announced in late 2005. With this amendment, Uribe was re-elected on May 28, 2006 for a second presidential term (2006-2010), and became the first president to be consecutively re-elected in Colombia in over a century. He received about 62% of the vote, consisting of about 7.3 million ballots in his favor.
The Organization of American States (OAS) deployed electoral observers in 12 departments: Antioquia, Risaralda, Quindío, Atlántico, Bolívar, Santander, Córdoba, Cauca, César, Nariño, Magdalena and Valle. In a statement made on May 28, OAS mentioned that the elections "have taken place in an atmosphere of freedom, transparency and normalcy", despite incidents "related to the use of indelible ink, voter substitution and the accreditation of electoral witnesses, though these have no effect on the electoral process as a whole" and "developments in northern Santander province that took the lives of army personnel and left others injured in an ambush carried out by subversive groups.
The report listed then-Senator Álvaro Uribe as a "close personal friend of Pablo Escobar" and described him as "dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín [drug] cartel at high government levels". It also stated that Uribe had "attacked all forms of the extradition treaty" and that his father had been murdered because of a "connection with the narcotic traffickers".
In response, the Colombian Presidency made an official statement rejecting several of the accusations in the report, adding that the same information had been part of previous allegations during Uribe's 2002 presidential campaign. It argued that Senator Uribe's position on the extradition treaty was available in the congressional archives for 1989 and had been reiterated in 2002 interviews: to postpone a proposed popular referendum on the matter until after the 1990 parliamentary and presidential elections, to prevent drug traffickers from influencing the results of the vote.
The official communique also stated that Uribe's father had been killed by FARC in 1983 during a kidnapping attempt and that in 1991 Senator Uribe was studying at Harvard University in the United States, as the Colombian Congress had been suspended during the sessions of the Constituent Assembly. The statement concluded by saying that Uribe had extradited more than 170 individuals to several countries around the world and that the President opposed any modification to current extradition mechanisms.
The NSA acknowledged that the information in the report was "only as good as its source" and that it was "difficult to verify the accuracy of the information" because of the details which remained classified. The NSA added that the report was different from average field intelligence as some degree of evaluation had already taken place "via interfaces with other agencies", that the source believed the statements to be true without qualifications, that the report included detailed information suggesting it would be employed for multiple uses, that much of the other information in the report was accurate and verifiable, and that significant effort had been spent on compiling the information.
Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Conway stated that the report was raw, uncorroborated information from one source and that "no conclusions can be drawn from it". Robert Zimmerman, U.S. Department of State deputy spokesman, rejected the allegations against Uribe and stated that his record was that of "a strong opponent of drug trafficking". Zimmerman added that "we have no credible information that substantiates or corroborates the allegations in an unevaluated 1991 report".
President Uribe denied Vallejo’s allegations. He said he wasn’t a friend of Escobar “even when it was fashionable”, that he had no business or political dealings with him and that he had seen Virginia Vallejo only once, in an airport. He added that, “due to his political visibility”, “he had seen Pablo Escobar many times, but from a distance”. The president also claimed that, though he had begun wearing glasses only in 1990, Virginia Vallejo had referred to his “seminarist glasses” of 1983. Uribe argued that he had been “waiting for 20 years” for anyone to present photographs of any alleged meetings between him and Escobar. In an October 16, 2007 statement, the Director of Civil Aviation in Colombia said that former Director Uribe had implemented stronger regulations for the operation and licensing of aircraft, companies and landing strips, citing decree 2.303 of 1981 which introduced as a requirement a certificate from the National Council on Narcotics, which would be provided after consulting DAS, F-2, Customs, the Inspector General and Army Brigades. The statement mentioned that Director Uribe had already been investigated by the Inspector General of Colombia at his own request, leading to no formal charges.
President Uribe accused El Nuevo Herald's correspondent in Colombia, Gonzalo Guillén, of being behind Virginia Vallejo's book, describing him as someone who had "dedicated his journalistic career to infamy and lies". The journalist denied any involvement, arguing that he had only interviewed Vallejo once, for a July 2006 article. Guillén said that Uribe had been angered after his earlier publication of another book, "The Confidants of Pablo Escobar", which contained claims about the Uribe family's ties to organized crime. BBC News reported that Guillén, who said he had received 24 death threats in three days, left Colombia after Uribe's accusations.
Daniel Coronell, journalist and Revista Semana columnist, wrote an October 2007 opinion column mentioning the June 15th 1983 edition of Medellín's El Mundo newspaper, which had reported that Colombia's Civil Aviation provided a special permit to a helicopter belonging to Pablo Escobar, described as a landowner by the paper, which was used by Álvaro Uribe Velez to travel to the area where his father Alberto Uribe Sierra had been murdered by the FARC. Coronell also wrote that the June 16th edition of El Colombiano contained an invitation to Alberto Uribe's funeral from Escobar's "Medellín sin tugurios" foundation. During a heated radio debate with Coronell, President Uribe argued that the helicopter had been assigned to him by Colombia's Civil Aviation authority, that he did not know it belonged to Pablo Escobar during the crisis and would have otherwise refused to board it, and that he returned to Medellín with his father's body by land. He also reiterated that he had no links to Escobar.
On December 9, 2007 Gerardo Reyes of El Nuevo Herald published a story about the 1984 assassination of Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla and the seizure of a helicopter found during the earlier raid of the Tranquilandia drug lab complex. According to the article, Cecilia Lara Bonilla, Rodrigo's sister, had made a sworn statement in July 1984, indicating that the slain minister thought the anti-drug operation had compromised important politicians throughout the country and that the seized helicopter belonged to Alberto Uribe Sierra, Álvaro Uribe's father. Police Colonel Jaime Ramírez Gómez, in another declaration, had stated that Lara Bonilla feared retaliation from the owners of the helicopter and the airplanes seized in Tranquilandia, without specifying any names at the time. In a telephone conversation with El Nuevo Herald, Cecilia Lara Bonilla stated that she stood by her earlier declarations and said she believed her brother "did have many doubts about Uribe [Vélez]. He did not express them clearly." According to El Nuevo Herald, the newspaper had requested, but did not receive, any comments from the Colombian President's Press Office in October, before the story was published.
The article indicated that President Uribe had previously argued that the helicopter had been sold before the Tranquilandia operation. The judicial process which followed Lara Bonilla's murder included a DAS report which stated that the seized helicopter was registered as the property of a private enterprise managed by Carlos Alberto Amórtegui Romero, one of whose partners was Alberto Uribe Sierra. Jaime Alberto Uribe Vélez, one of the late Uribe Sierra's sons, had declared seventeen days after the anti-drug raid that the helicopter had been sold by the company to a third party a month before the operation, as payment for a debt. The judicial archives for the investigation did not contain any formal record of the transaction. The Colombian government sent a letter to El Nuevo Herald saying that Carlos Amórtegui, the legal representative of the company which owned the seized helicopter, had published a May 22, 1984 statement in Cromos magazine about the sale of the aircraft.
Rodrigo Lara Restrepo, son of the murdered Minister of Justice, had been named Colombia's Anti-Corruption Czar a year and a half before the publication of the article. Lara Restrepo told the Miami newspaper that he would make a declaration in the following days. Lara Restrepo later resigned his post, arguing that several government officials had known about the El Nuevo Herald story since October, without informing him about it, and that he had not previously read Cecilia Lara's 1984 statements. He added that he still believed in the Colombian government and the Uribe administration's fight against the drug cartels, but that his resignation was made as a sign of respect for his father.
The head of the Colombian President's Press Office, César Mauricio Velásquez, said that he decided not to reply to correspondent Gerardo Reyes, who had made an e-mail inquiry, and also criticized the journalist. He added that he had not thought about informing Rodrigo Lara Restrepo.
In April 2007, Senator Gustavo Petro made several accusations against President Uribe during a televised congressional debate about paramilitarism in Antioquia. Petro said that some of the Uribe family's farms in the north of the country had been previously used as staging grounds for paramilitary forces. He also showed a picture of Santiago Uribe, the President's brother, together with Fabio Ochoa, a drug dealer, in 1985. Petro also argued that Governor Uribe's office allowed paramilitary personnel to participate in some of the legal self-defense groups known as CONVIVIR. Another accusation concerned the possible participation of a helicopter belonging to the former Antioquia Governor's administration during a paramilitary massacre.
Two days later, President Uribe publicly revealed that former US Vice President Al Gore had cancelled his participation in a pro-environment event Uribe was to attend in Miami due to the continuing allegations against him. The Colombian President reacted by organizing a press conference during which he addressed several of the accusations Senator Petro and others had made against him. Uribe argued that his family had nothing to do with any massacres and that they had already sold the implicated farms several years before the alleged events. He also stated that the Uribes and the Ochoas were both famous in the horse breeding business, causing their meetings to be both common and public. He claimed that the helicopter's hours and missions had been strictly logged, making it impossible for it to have participated in any massacre. Uribe said that he supported the CONVIVIR groups but was not solely responsible for their creation, adding that other civilian and military authorities also participated in their oversight. He also said that he dismantled some CONVIVIR groups when doubts began to surround their activities.
On April 22, 2008, former senator Mario Uribe Escobar, one of the Colombian President's cousins and a close political ally, was arrested after being denied asylum at the Costa Rican embassy in Bogotá, as part of a judicial inquiry into the links between politicians and paramilitary groups. Mario Uribe has been accused of meeting with paramilitary commander Salvatore Mancuso in order to plan land seizures.
On April 23, 2008, President Uribe revealed that a former paramilitary fighter had accused him of helping to plan the 1997 massacre of El Aro, a charge which he said was under official investigation. Uribe described the accuser as a "disgruntled convict with an axe to grind", denied the charges and said there was proof of his innocence. The Colombian newsweekly Revista Semana reported that the paramilitary in question, Francisco Enrique Villalba Hernández, had not mentioned Uribe during previous declarations made more than five years ago, when he was sentenced for his own role in the massacre. The magazine also listed a number of possible inconsistencies in his most recent testimony, including the alleged presence of General Manosalva, who had died months before the date of the meeting where the massacre was planned.
Although on completely opposite sides of the political spectrum, up until 2007 Colombia and Venezuela had had only one major impasse in their relations, the Rodrigo Granda affair, which had been overcome thanks to the direct talks between Uribe and Chávez. Álvaro Uribe's main political problem during 2007 was his handling of the humanitarian exchange situation: the FARC guerrillas have under their possession over 700 hostages, living under very difficult conditions in the vast Colombian jungle. These hostages included presidential candidate and French citizen Ingrid Betancourt (now freed), three American citizens (now freed), and several Colombian politicians and law enforcers. Some of the captives have been in the jungle for over 10 years. For the release of 40 of these hostages (the so called "canjeables" or "exchangeables") the FARC demands a Demilitarized Zone that includes the towns of Florida and Pradera. The government has refused to comply with this demand, deciding instead to push for a military rescue of the hostages, or by searching the mediation of third parties like Switzerland and the Catholic Church.
As all of those plans failed to get any positive outcome, Uribe appointed Senator Piedad Córdoba, to mediate between the government and the guerrillas in an attempt to secure the liberation of the hostages. Córdoba then asked Chávez to mediate also, with the consent of President Uribe. French president Nicolas Sarkozy was also willing to help in the mediation effort.
On November 8, 2007 Chávez met with alias "Iván Márquez" one of the highest members of the FARC and some other members of its Secretariat at the Palacio de Miraflores in a widely publicized event. After the event Chavez promised to deliver evidence that some of the hostages remained alive. When Chávez met with Sarkozy on November 19, Chávez was still waiting on the evidence. Lacking the "proof of life" that was promised to the families of the hostages, and seeing prominent FARC members using the media attention to promote their own ideology, Uribe became disgruntled with the mediation process.
On Novermber 22 Uribe abruptly ended the mediation after Chávez spoke with the high command of the Colombian military during a call made by Córdoba. Uribe had conditioned Chávez against any attempt to talk to military high command. Chávez initially accepted the decision, but tensions escalated as the presidents increasingly attacked each other verbally, with Chávez claiming that Uribe and the U.S. simply preferred the war continue, and Uribe implying Chávez supported the rebels.
Chávez announced a "freeze" of political relations and called Uribe a "pawn of the empire" and cut contact with the Colombian government, including rejecting calls from the Colombian embassy in Caracas. He announced his intent to sharply reduce bilateral commerce.
Chávez continued negotiating with the rebels and eventually secured the unilateral release of two, then four more, hostages to Venezuela which were meant as signs of good faith and preceded calls for more negotiations, which Uribe dismissed.
During the release of two hostages at the end of the convoluted Operation Emmanuel, Venezuelan Interior Minister Ramón Rodriguez Chacín told FARC fighters: "We are with you...Be strong. We are following your cause." Soon after, on January 11, Chávez claimed that both FARC and ELN weren't terrorist organizations, but legitimate armies with a political project respected in Venezuela. He then proceeded to ask for all nations to stop calling FARC and ELN "terrorist groups," and rather give them belligerent status.
During the scheduled visit of State Secretary Condoleezza Rice to Colombia, Chavez accused both the Colombian and American governments of plotting a military aggression against Venezuela. Uribe said March 4, 2008 that he will go before the International Criminal Court to accuse Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez of "supporting and financing genocides.
A regional crisis began after Colombian troops killed FARC commander Raúl Reyes in a guerrilla camp inside Ecuadorian borders on March 1. Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua cut diplomatic ties with Colombia as a response.
Several countries in the Americas criticized the incursion into Ecuador as a violation of national sovereignty, which was also denounced by an OAS resolution. The United States backed Colombia's position and internal support for the action remained strong.
In April 2008, Yidis Medina, a former congresswoman from the pro-government Colombian Conservative Party, claimed that members of President Uribe's administration had offered her to appoint local officials in her home province, in exchange for voting in favor of the 2004 reelection bill. According to Medina, the government had not fulfilled that promise, prompting her declaration. The Attorney General of Colombia ordered her arrest, after which she turned herself over to authorities and testified to the Supreme Court as part of the investigation. The opposition Alternative Democratic Pole party asked for President Uribe to be investigated for bribery. After the declarations made by Medina, the Supreme Court of Colombia sent copies of the process to other judicial authorities, who have the jurisdiction to investigate several former and current cabinet members and other high officials. The Accusations Commission of the Colombian Congress will study the matter and decide if there are enough merits to officially investigate President Uribe.