- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

‘Myths and facts’

The Colombian Embassy is fighting charges that President Alvaro Uribe is guilty of human rights abuses, accusations that clouded his visit to Washington last week and threatened to be the excuse for congressional Democrats to block a free-trade deal.

The embassy is waging a campaign on its Web site (www.colombiaemb.org) to counter claims by Mr. Uribe’s most ardent opponent in the Colombian Senate, former communist rebel Gustavo Petro, as well as criticism from groups such as Human Rights Watch. Mr. Petro was a member of the M-19 guerrillas.

Under a Web page headlined “Myths and Facts About Accusations Against President Alvaro Uribe,” the embassy deals with four charges Mr. Petro leveled against Mr. Uribe in the Senate on April 17.

Mr. Petro claimed that right-wing paramilitary groups met with Mr. Uribe on his farm in the mid-1980s to plot the slayings of several opponents.

“There was a murder on the Uribe ranch in 1983, but the victim was the president’s father,” the embassy said, referring to the attack by another rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). “During the episode, the FARC Marxist guerrillas also wounded his brother, Santiago Uribe, and attempted to kidnap his sister, Maria Isabel Uribe.”

Mr. Petro also accused the president’s brother of involvement with a paramilitary group, but the embassy noted that the government investigated those claims and “no charges have been brought.”

The embassy dismissed Mr. Petro’s accusation that Mr. Uribe, when he was governor of the state of Antioquia from 1995 to 1997, authorized several “Convivir” groups, local security forces created in 1994 that later evolved into illegal paramilitary groups. The embassy said one group never received government approval and Mr. Uribe rescinded the certification of eight others because of “questions surrounding their operations.” Four groups cited by Mr. Petro operated outside of Mr. Uribe’s jurisdiction.

Finally, the embassy disputed Mr. Petro’s claim that a government helicopter observed a paramilitary massacre while Mr. Uribe was governor. It noted that the state government owned two helicopters: one for medical emergencies and one for the governor.

“There is no evidence that either of these helicopters was in the area” during the 1997 El Aro massacre, the embassy said.

Despite the embassy’s attempt to defend Mr. Uribe, the charges of human rights abuse under his five years in office haunted him before and during his Washington visit earlier this month. Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch told a congressional hearing in April that Colombia “presents the worst human rights and humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere.”

Mr. Uribe encountered stiff resistance from Democrats in Washington, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California rebuked him on human rights, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont held up military aid and other Democrats intended to block a free-trade agreement.

However, Mr. Uribe has received editorial support from liberal newspapers such as The Washington Post and conservative newspapers such as The Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week told Colombia’s Caracol TV, “The Uribe government has made more progress in dealing with the question of paramilitaries than any previous government.”

Talks in Poland

U.S. and Polish diplomats this week opened talks on Washington’s proposal to base defensive missiles in Poland as part of a system to protect Europe from attacks from rogue states such as Iran.

“We are characterizing these talks as useful initial discussions,” a U.S. Embassy spokesman told Agence France-Presse in Warsaw.

Under the plan, Poland would house 10 interceptor missiles, while a controlling radar system would be installed in the Czech Republic.

Russia has angrily denounced the proposal as a threat to its sphere of influence.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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