Colombian ex-president sounds off on his successor’s peace talks with Farc rebels

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has a problem : his predecessor and former boss, Álvaro Uribe.

During the 2.010 presidential campaign, Uribe backed Santos as the most capable steward of his hard-line, U.S. supported policies that brought a once-chaotic country under control. 

Now Uribe calls his former defense minister “a traitor” and “a scoundrel,” warning of the doomsday scenario that awaits if peace negotiations with Marxist guerrillas are fruitful.

Uribe has even formed his own political party, the Uribe Democratic Center, and says he’ll run for senate to block his former underling’s initiatives.

The relentless attacks from Uribe, who was the closest U.S. ally in Latin America during his eight-year rule, is raising eyebrows among policymakers in the Obama administration and in the U.S. Congress. 

Both Uribe and Santos were central to the war on drugs in the Andes, a battle largely funded with billions of dollars in U.S. military aid, and analysts say the effort to undermine the Santos presidency is seen as unseemly.

“We are not accustomed to ex-presidents playing such an explicit role, opining on the decisions of a sitting president,” said Carl Meacham, who for 10 years oversaw Latin American policy for Republicans on the Senate foreign relations committee. “

For us, it’s sort of shocking to see the extent of President Uribe’s involvement.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, (D-Vt.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds U.S. aid to Colombia, said it was regrettable that “some Colombian politicians” were seeking “to sabotage a process that may be Colombia’s best hope to finally put an end to decades of violence.”

The Santos bashing seems to have gathered strength and attention in recent weeks as Colombians have become less hopeful about peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, a rebel group that polls here show most people loathe. Santos’s approval rating has plummeted to 21 percent from 48 percent in June, according to a Gallup poll carried out last month.

Uribe’s onslaught comes at a particularly challenging moment. Santos, 62, needs the negotiations to advance to bolster popular support for a successful reelection campaign next year. 

But the talks have bogged down in part because of FARC delaying tactics, giving Uribe more ammunition.

“It’s a huge problem, especially because he’s one of the most popular politicians in the country,” Adam Isacson, a senior analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, said of Uribe.

Uribe, 61, whose father was killed by Farc guerrillas, contends that Santos betrayed his administration’s legacy by repairing relations with Venezuela’s leftist government, which assisted the rebels, and then embarking on negotiations with the group’s commanders. 

He does not mention that when Santos was his defense minister, the Colombian security services delivered their most decisive blows against Farc.

Uribe recently tweeted to his 2.3 million followers that Santos has “converted terrorists who were in the process of being defeated and isolated into political actors.”

Berny Polanía

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