Sunday, Dec. 19, 2004

Alvaro Uribe

Left-wing, U.S.-bashing politicians may be back in style throughout most of Latin America, but Colombians give their leader — the conservative, pro-U.S. President Alvaro Uribe — a 71% approval rating. The reason: Uribe, 52, has stemmed the tide of killing after a 40-year-long civil war that has taken more than 150,000 lives, created millions of refugees, and destabilized the Andean region. Despite criticism that Uribe has ignored the epic poverty and human-rights violations that sparked the conflict in the first place, Colombians see a chance to make their nation safe again. The most bloodthirsty rebel groups no longer have the run of the country, because the owlish but tough-talking Uribe has almost doubled the size and boosted the effectiveness of Colombia's once feckless military while slashing the cultivation of coca — crucial, since the rebels have earned billions of dollars trafficking cocaine. Colombia's economy is growing again, and Congress just voted to allow second presidential terms, meaning Uribe could run once more in 2006. Colombians may well stick with a man whose plan they say is working.