NOTHING in the way he has led his country for the past eight years suggested that Álvaro Uribe, Colombia’s outgoing president, was going to fade discreetly into the background. And so it is proving. Mr Uribe inherited a failing state in 2002. With single-minded determination and the backing of the United States, he reduced the FARC guerrillas from a mortal threat to Colombian democracy to a scattered irritant and persuaded over 20,000 of their brutal opponents, the right-wing paramilitaries, to disarm. The fall in murders and kidnaps restored morale, investment and economic growth. Colombians are grateful: Mr Uribe, whose attempt to run for a third term was ruled unconstitutional, departs early next month with an approval rating of around 70%. The voters endorsed his call for the continuation of his “democratic security” policy by voting overwhelmingly for the candidate who most closely personified it: his former defence minister, Juan Manuel Santos.
Yet there has always been a darker side to Mr Uribe. Several of his officials and allies have been accused of complicity with the paramilitaries and his army murdered many civilians. The president has seemed to want to subvert the independence of the judiciary. In foreign affairs he was sometimes naive and erratic. Colombia has been unjustly isolated abroad.
Not a paragon of virtue, but still the savior of his country - and, given the murder rate in Columbia back in 2002 - a man who has saved the lives of tens of thousands on all sides of the conflict. Now compare that story to this description, posted at Mondoweiss in response to Uribe's appointment to the UN committee to investigate the flotilla case:
It’s difficult to catalogue and summarize the various political scandals that have plagued Uribe’s 8-year presidency. Three days before the announcement of Uribe’s appointment to the U.N. committee, the Colombian press reported the outgoing president’s verbal attack against Colombian Supreme Court Magistrate Yesid Ramirez, after Ramirez asked the nation’s prosecutor general to open an investigation into allegations that the president’s son, Tomás Uribe, bribed congressmen to ensure his father's re-election in 2006. The recent scandal is only the latest in one of many of Uribe’s public displays of contempt for the Colombian judiciary, the most famous of which was his outrage at the Court’s nixing of a referendum that would have allowed Uribe to run for a third presidential term.
More significant than political tumult or charges of corruption is Uribe’s contempt for international law, demonstrated by his government’s illegal use of the International Red Cross emblem in a hostage rescue mission in July 2008. Uribe admitted using the Red Cross emblem in the mission - which successfully duped the guerrilla into releasing several high profile hostages, including three Americans and one former Colombian presidential candidate – but dismissed the violation as a “mistake” committed by a soldier in a “state of angst”. Immediately following the mission, the Red Cross released a statement urging all sides to respect the ICRC emblem, but did not pursue the issue further. The Geneva Conventions prohibit improper use of the Red Cross logo.
You can win one of the world's worst civil wars; you can defeat one of the world's most murderous terrorist armies; you can enjoy the support of 70% of your nation's voters. None of this will gain you the support of the International Purist Human Rights Brigades, and if you get anywhere near a body which Israel has joined, you're toast.
My apologies to readers for having dedicated rather too much attention to the hate-filled sick people of Mondoweiss these past few days. I understand it's not a pleasant subject. On the other hand, there are some pathologies in the world we need to be aware of, and this is one of them.