Saturday, May 27, 2006

Incumbent Colombian President Set for Re-election Amidst Ongoing War

(Source Article: Amid war, a tale of two cities - Reuters)

Update: Uribe wins re-election -

Troops patrol all parts of Bogota, serving as a reminder of Colombia’s war with the guerrillas. But the country’s wealthy citizens enjoy a rich night life, an indication of the growing sense of security and safety in the more affluent areas of Bogota as a result of President Alvaro Uribe’s security policies. Its this kind of effect that has poised the incumbent President to coast through the elections to another win.

A club owner in an affluent district of Bogota praised Uribe for his security policies and governance, and hopes for the President’s re-election on Sunday.

With strong support from the United States, Uribe’s forces have driven guerillas from urban areas in their crack-down on the illegal cocaine trade. Unfortunately, large parts of the Colombian countryside remain in the control of rebel groups, like the FARC, the most powerful of such groups.

Additionally, the poorer districts of Bogota do not enjoy a similar sense of security. One resident commented that she will not go out of her house past 8 o’clock, because of the rampant violence as the gangs swarm and take over the streets. Another resident of Bogota’s impoverished Southside demonstrated her lack of confidence in the government by commenting she would not vote for Uribe because “[n]othing gets better because of the corruption. Politicians don’t want to share...with the poor people”

However, not all of the country’s poor are dissatisfied with Uribe; Edelmira Reyes, a resident of the impoverished Bogota suburb of Bolivar City, said, “[h]e’s the only tough president I can remember who’s actually stood up to the FARC and not given into them...” (see Uribe versus Latin America's 'Pink Tide' - The Independent)

Every year, several thousand civilians are killed in the Colombian government’s battle against Marxist guerrilla groups and the illegal drug trade. The U.S. currently gives more military aid to Colombia than any other country (recently giving approximately US$ 1.3 billion under Plan Colombia) in support of its war against the guerrillas and its efforts to eradicate coca plants, from which cocaine is produced; illegal distribution of cocaine, especially its importation into wealthy countries like the U.S., is the primary source of revenue for guerrilla groups like the FARC.

Serious problems for Colombia’s citizens have resulted from the ongoing war: The World Bank cites “forced displacement” (when guerrilla groups take control of the rural countryside after being pushed out of other areas by the government, displacing the citizens who own the land) as the most severe of those problems, with some 2,800,000 people displaced from their homes since the mid-1980’s. Most of these displaced persons move to the slums of cities like Bogota, where they face severe impoverishment because of the loss of land, savings and other material assets resulting from the displacement. (see Protection of Colombia's Patrimonial Assets - The World Bank)

Questions to think about:

-Are people suffering in Colombia mainly because of an ideological war waged in the U.S. and other industrial countries against drugs such as cocaine?

-Would legalization of cocaine fix current problems in Colombia (the war and displacement)? If so, would it nevertheless lead to new, perhaps more severe, problems in Colombia and abroad?

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