- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia — His voice cracking with emotion, Colombia’s gruff armed-forces commander said yesterday he is quitting his post, adding his resignation letter to a growing pile on the desk of President Alvaro Uribe.

In the past week, three Cabinet ministers, the head of the Colombian National Police and four other senior police officials have resigned under pressure after the defeat of political reforms that Mr. Uribe said were needed to fight leftist rebels and crack down on corruption.

That so many heads have rolled is raising concerns about the prospects for Colombia’s counterinsurgency war — partly financed with $2.5 billion in U.S. aid.

Gen. Jorge Enrique Mora, the armed-forces chief, said he would step down on Nov. 20, but gave no explanation for ending his 42-year career.

“It has been a privilege to have taken part in the colossal transformation that our beloved Colombia is undergoing toward a great destiny,” Gen. Mora said in his resignation letter to Mr. Uribe.

Only three days ago, Colombia’s first female defense minister, Martha Lucia Ramirez, resigned after clashing openly with Gen. Mora and other senior military commanders. Her departure gave many the impression that the commanders had triumphed over her.

But a veteran European ambassador said the changes show that Mr. Uribe, who has almost three years remaining in his four-year term, is asserting his authority.

“This is a signal to both the military and civilian authorities, and the message is: ‘I am in charge, and you do what I tell you,’” the ambassador said. “The military cannot bask in its victory over the civilian authorities.”

By choosing an old friend, Jorge Alberto Uribe, as the new defense minister, the president has ensured the implementation of his policies, the ambassador said. The new minister, who is not related to the president, is a U.S.-educated economist with no military experience.

The president last week also chose another ally, businessman Sabas Pretelt, to head the Interior and Justice Ministry. He replaced a sharp-tongued figure who clashed with lawmakers, whose support Mr. Uribe needs to approve a tax increase to pay for the war against the rebels.

Getting the congress on board is critical to Mr. Uribe after Colombians on Oct. 25 rejected, in a nationwide referendum, measures that would have diverted some government spending to the fight against the rebels. The measures would have strengthened Mr. Uribe’s battle against corruption.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Uribe ousted the commander of the Colombian National Police, Gen. Teodoro Campo and four other senior police officers amid a series of police-corruption scandals.

Mr. Uribe did not immediately name a replacement for Gen. Mora.

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