Thursday, June 08, 2006

In Colombia, what should re-elected Uribe do with his mandate?

Cynthia Arnson, the director of the highly respected Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars, writes in the Miami Herald that the re-elected President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, must focus on the economic and social problems of the society. Over the past four years, Uribe has redefined Colombia's problem as the greed of the narco-traffickers and their terrorism -- consistent with the U.S. political agenda. But in re-electing Uribe, more than half the country tells pollsters the country is moving in the wrong direction. Colombia has some of the greatest social inequality in the Western Hemisphere. It also has more internally displaced persons -- internal refugees -- than any country in the world but the Sudan (Darfur crisis) and the Congo!

Two-thirds of the rural population live in poverty -- two-thirds in extreme poverty (less than one dollar per day!). Growing a uniquely valuable cash crop like coca (and increasingly opium) is very attractive.

Arson concludes,

Uribe has a unique opportunity in his second term to make the hard choices that would make Colombia not only safer but also more equitable. He should use his overwhelming mandate to show that questions of poverty reduction and social policy are not the sole purview of left or populist regimes in the hemisphere, but rather, are central to overcoming the need and marginalization that continue to fuel conflict in Colombia.

Of course this means that Uribe has to de-emphasize Colombia's relyiance on America's coca eradication priorities, and militarization approaches.

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