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Alvaro Uribe Velez (2002-2010)

Independent candidate Alvaro Uribe was the first person ever to win a presidential race in Colombia in the first round of voting. But even if the bespectacled former governor of the central state of Antioquia failed to get the needed 50 percent, most political analysts believed he would likely win the mid-June runoff.

Uribe served as governor of Antioquia from 1995 to 1997. Before that, he had been listed in 1991 as one of Colombia's “most important narco-traffickers” by the United States Defense Intelligence Agency.

According to a 1991 intelligence report from U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officials in Colombia, posted 01 August 2004 on the website of the National Security Archive, Uribe was a "close personal friend of Pablo Escobar" who was "dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín [drug] cartel at high government levels". Uribe "was linked to a business involved in narcotics activities in the United States" and "has worked for the Medellín cartel," the narcotics trafficking organization led by Escobar until he was killed by Colombian government forces in 1993. The report added that Uribe participated in Escobar's parliamentary campaign and that as senator he had "attacked all forms of the extradition treaty" with the US.

Uribe was a major proponent of the CONVIVIR program to give government licenses to private security services. Since that time, many links between paramilitaries and Uribe, his family, and his presidential administration have been made. He is regarded by many as the father of the modern paramilitary movement.

Uribe's rise had a lot to do with his tough talk and steady focus on Colombia's 38-year-war with leftist guerrillas. He said the current government has failed to uphold the rule of law by not taking a more aggressive stand with the rebels. He believed that a strong military approach will eventually bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

That kind of talk has helped Uribe establish a 17-point lead over his closest rival, Horacio Serpa of the Liberal Party. Only six months earlier, Serpa was the frontrunner, but he lost support with his advocacy of a political solution to the civil conflict. He had spoken in favor of peaceful dialogue and has attacked Mr. Uribe for being too hawkish. But many Colombians see Serpa's approach as a continuation of the failed policy of the current government of President Pastrana, who gave concessions to the guerrillas and got little in return.

The peace process broke apart in February 2002 and President Pastrana ordered the Colombian military to retake the zone. But by that time, Alvaro Uribe had already established a huge lead in the polls using the slogan "firm hand, big heart." Uribe promises a build up of the armed forces as well as reforms in education and social services. He also favors seeking more U.S. aid in the fight against rebels he refers to as terrorists. Many Colombians agree with his use of that term because they had grown angry and frustrated by guerrilla attacks against civilian targets.

Alvaro Uribe - a former Partido Liberal member - ran and won in May 2002 on an independent platform to restore security to the country. Many Congress PL and independent members in both chambers pledged their support to Uribe even prior to his election. Security improved significantly under Uribe although his fierce campaign against the FARC often seemed to border on the personal: his father was killed by the rebels in a botched kidnapping.

Among his promises was pursuing the broad goals of Plan Colombia within the framework of a long-term strategy. In the fall of 2002, Uribe released a democratic security strategy that employed political, economic, and military means to weaken all illegal armed groups. The Uribe government offered to negotiate a peace agreement with these groups if they would agree to a unilateral cease-fire and to end drug trafficking and kidnapping.

In December 2003, the Colombian United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) paramilitary group entered into a peace agreement with the government that led to the collective demobilization of over 31,000 AUC members. In addition, more than 20,000 members of the FARC, AUC, ELN, and other illegal armed groups have individually surrendered their arms. In July 2005, President Uribe signed the Justice and Peace Law, which provides reduced punishments for the demobilized if they renounce violence and return illegal assets, which are used by the government to provide reparations to victims.

In January 2007, Colombian leaders presented a new strategy to consolidate gains under Plan Colombia and its follow-on programs. This strategy eventually became known as the National Consolidation Plan (Plan Nacional de Consolidacion, or PNC). The PNC is a civilian-led, whole-of-government approach that builds upon successful Plan Colombia programs to establish state presence in traditionally ungoverned spaces. By improving access to social services, including justice, education, housing, and health; strengthening democracy; and supporting economic development through sustainable growth and trade, the Colombian Government seeks to permanently recover governance in Colombia's historically marginalized rural areas and break the cycle of guerilla violence.

In 2008, senior FARC commander Luis Edgar Devia-Silva, aka “Raul Reyes,” was killed during a Colombian Government operation; FARC Commander Manuel Munoz-Ortiz, aka “Ivan Rios,” was killed at the hands of his own chief of security; and FARC founding member Manuel Marulanda-Velez, aka “Tirofijo,” died from a reported heart attack. Since 2000, the FARC has not carried out large-scale multi-front attacks, although it has mounted some operations that indicate it has not yet been broken. Government efforts on peace negotiations with the FARC stalled in 2010.

The Colombian Congress passed a law in September 2009 permitting a referendum on whether President Alvaro Uribe may stand for a third term in the presidential elections on May 30, 2010. His popularity continued to hover around 70% after more than seven years in office. Opponents of a third consecutive presidential term cited the deterioration of democratic institutions designed for a single four-year presidency as their most serious concern.

When Uribe first took office in 2002, 14 institutions were designed to be independent or quasi-independent checks on the Executive (a majority of its heads were not named by the President and did not form part of his political coalition, or the President had no role in the naming of the individuals, and the institution had not displayed favoritism for GOC policies and officials). Once the Constitution was modified to allow a second term, the checks and balances quickly deteriorated. By the final months of Uribe's second term (2010), only five of the institutions remained independent, seven were partly under the President's influence, and two had been co-opted (its head was named by the President or formed part of his political coalition, and displayed favoritism for GOC policies and officials).

Colombia's Constitutional Court ruled 26 February 2010 that the constitutional amendment process to allow President Alvaro Uribe to run for an unprecedented (and controversial) third term could not legally go forward. The Court -- reportedly by a 7-2 vote -- specifically cited flawed actions in how the referendum was requested by the public and approved by the Congress. The nearly three-year presidential reelection referendum rollercoaster ride was finally finished. Uribe loyalist Juan Manuel Santos now became the frontrunner in the May 30 election, which he won.

Colombia had transitioned from a near failed state and terrorist haven to a stable democracy. Murder and kidnapping rates dropped dramatically, while the rule of law was strengthened through major judicial reforms. While Colombia still experienced serious problems with illegal armed groups, the conflict had ceased to be a threat to Colombia's national security and sovereignty.

Alvaro Uribe was born in Medellin, capital of the department of Antioquia on July 4th , 1952. He is married to Lina Uribe. They have two sons: Tomás and Jerónimo. Alvaro Uribe holds a degree in law from the Universidad de Antioquia and a post-graduate degree in Management and Administration from Harvard University. From 1998 to 1999 after being awarded the Simon Bolivar fellowship by the British Council in Bogotá, he worked as an associate professor at Oxford University.

During his last two years of High School, with his excellent academic record, he was exempted from final examinations, and as an honor student he was granted scholarships for the greater part of his university career.

Alvaro Uribe went into public service at a very young age. In 1976 he became head of the Real Estate Office of the Public Works Department of Medellín. From 1977 to 1978 he was Secretary General of the Labor Ministry and from 1980 to 1982, head of the Civil Aviation Department. He was the mayor of his native city of Medellín in 1982 and later, from 1984 to 1986, he was elected city councillor.

Alvaro Uribe was elected governor of the department of Antioquia for the 1995-1997 period, during which he developed a model of community participation in key government decisions such as the creation of new jobs, education, public procurement and security, which he called Community State.

During his term as governor, Alvaro Uribe reduced the number of government jobs by 34% and the number of official vehicles by 35%. Such savings in government spending meant schooling for 103,000 new students. As governor he also devised a program by which 40,000 people received training in the peaceful negotiation of conflict.

Also, 200,000 of Antioquia's poor became eligible for free health care under the national subsidized health insurance System.

Alvaro Uribe was also responsible for the paving of 939 kilometers of roads. More than double the length which the Department had paved in its entire history. And extensive repair work was done on the roads which link Antioquia with the nation's capital, Bogotá. The number of kidnapping cases in the department, went down by 60% due to the cooperation of the community with the local authorities.

He took the presidential oath of office on August 7, 2002.

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Page last modified: 12-03-2016 19:26:31 ZULU