- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 26, 2002

Today, Colombians are expected to cast their ballots supporting a war in order to win peace. Colombians have suffered through almost four decades of terrorist-led violence, and many have suffered personal losses as tens of thousands have died in massacres, sieges and crossfires. Alvaro Uribe, the front-runner in today's presidential election, has pledged to bring an end to the violence through military action. It is easy to understand Mr. Uribe's popular appeal, but as president, he may be a new source of trouble.
His promise is attractive to Colombians, who have watched in despair as President Andres Pastrana handed over an area the size of Switzerland to the brutally violent insurgent group known as the FARC. Mr. Pastrana ceded to the FARC control of the territory and the people in it thereby denying Colombians their right to the protection of the state, not to mention other fundamental rights. Mr. Pastrana had hoped the grandiose gesture would convince the FARC of his goodwill and bring the guerrilla group to the negotiating table. Unsurprisingly, the FARC used what's known as the demilitarized zone as a home base to launch its horrific campaigns into other areas of the country. Meanwhile, the Colombians living there, who became Mr. Pastrana's sacrificial lambs, have long raised alarms regarding the FARC's violations of their human rights.
When Colombians voted in Mr. Pastrana, they still believed peace could be negotiated with the various terrorist groups, whose narco-trafficking, blood-curdling massacres and links to Colombia's military have brought the country to its knees. Now that Mr. Pastrana's efforts have failed most ignominiously, it is little wonder that Colombians want war. The Bush administration should be watching closely, however, as to just who will be Colombia's next president.
Paramilitary groups and other narco-traffickers have proclaimed themselves friends of Mr. Uribe. And although the presidential hopeful has said he will go after paramilitary groups in his efforts to rout out terrorism, Mr. Uribe has also said he will support the creation of local self-defense groups, which are the origins of current-day paramilitary groups. Should Mr. Uribe become Colombia's next president as expected, the Bush administration will have to monitor closely potential links between paramilitary groups, the president, and the country's military.
Mr. Uribe also seems to be afflicted with a tunnel-visioned approach to Colombia's problems. While it is inevitable that Colombia's terrorists must be dealt with, at least in part, militarily, the country has a whole host of other problems as well. Colombia's next president leader must make the presence of the state known in the remote areas that are today no-man's land. Local law-enforcement must be aggressively bolstered, and judicial reform has become critical. Roads have to be built.
If he is elected, Mr. Uribe will have to try solve these critical shortcomings, or there will be little hope for success in his planned military action.


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