Alvaro Uribe, Our Little Ghoul: U.S. Media’s Lame Coverage of Colombia’s Election


There was a presidential election in Colombia yesterday but you may not have noticed it because there has been relatively little reporting on the campaign in the U.S. media, especially compared to the saturation coverage of the recent election in Venezuela. I have serious problems with Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, but next to Ivan Duque, he’s a relative saint. And while there were legitimate issues raised about the Venezuelan election, the process in Colombia was deeply flawed, though you wouldn’t know much about this from reading coverage here.

The election yesterday in Colombia was the first of two rounds because no candidate got 50 percent of the vote. So in the second round, leftist and former guerrilla Gustavo Petro will face right-winger Ivan Duque. The latter gained 39 percent of the vote to Petro’s 25 percent, but the leftist could, in theory, win in the second round because Duque is a front man for past president Alvaro Uribe, a corrupt, sociopathic mass murderer tied to narcos. Duque, who “has vowed to make unilateral changes to a 2016 peace deal with FARC guerrillas,” is an extremist who is unpalatable even to parts of Colombia’s traditional, and generally vile, political elite.

There was some scattered coverage of the election in the U.S. and the links between Uribe and Duque, but pathetically little given the former’s record as the worst political leader in modern Latin American history and the fact that Duque is clearly his flunky and pawn.

Uribe served as president from 2002 to 2010. He continued a long tradition of Colombian governments employing massive violence against political enemies — many of them leftists, community organizers and unionists, but invariably described as armed guerrillas when killed en masse by the military and paramilitary groups. Colombian governments have murdered huge numbers of  civilians over the years, often with U.S. support. The country in no way resembles a democracy — and poverty is endemic — though you’d never know it from the way the American media typically writes about the country.

The fact that Uribe, through Duque, could be about to return to power should be the topic of extensive media coverage, but journalists and pundits can’t be bothered. Venezuela is an official enemy so its government is denounced on virtually a daily basis as reporters faithfully pass on State Department press briefings or the ravings of the execrable Senator Marco Rubio.

But Colombia? Few in the press care about the appalling situation there because its governments do as they are told. Colombia is even joining NATO (!!!!) so what’s a little systematic repression and corruption between friends? I can’t wait for the New York Times and Washington Post op-ed pages to denounce the democratic process in Colombia. I’m sure a wave of op-eds are in the works.

As to Uribe, he has an extensive public record of corruption. He won reelection as president in 2006 only because members of his cabinet bribed enough senators to pass an amendment allowing him to run for an unconstitutional second term.

He also is know for human rights abuses that are unparalleled in Latin American in recent times. Among the more appalling abuses committed during his years in office were the so-called “false positives”: thousands of civilians who were murdered by the army and other security forces and then presented to the public as armed insurgents.

In one especially notorious case, soldiers and officers executed twenty young men from the poor Bogota suburb of Soacha and then shipped the bodies — including the corpse of one mentally ill man — to remote areas of the country, where they were dumped in military clothing. According to a UN report, the impunity rate on these extrajudicial murders likely topped 98 percent.

Uribe claimed to have shut down right-wing paramilitary forces, but they continued to thrive on his watch (and still do). They have extensive political influence and even today directly control — by holding seats directly or funding front politicians — a good chunk of congress.

In 2004, the Washington-based National Security Archives obtained via the Freedom of Information Act a remarkable DIA cable — written 13 years earlier — saying that then-Senator Uribe was a “close personal friend of Pablo Escobar” who was “dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín [drug] cartel at high government levels.” The report put Uribe on a list of “the more important Colombian narco-traffickers contracted by the Colombian narcotic cartels for security, transportation, distribution, collection and enforcement of narcotics operations” and said Uribe was “linked to a business involved in narcotics activities in the United States.”

In terms of yesterday’s elections in Colombia, labor lawyer Dan Kovalik provided great coverage on Twitter.

Kovalik also reported death threats against supporters of leftist candidate Petro and that election observers “mistaken for potential voters have been offered money to vote.” A Colombian reader of his Twitter feed wrote to him, “Sir, thank you for reporting this. We are hundreds of thousands threatened. In Colombia, the violent ones have us cornered and justice does not operate. In the last 2 years, around 500 social leaders have been killed.”

So basically you’ve got one labor lawyer on Twitter out reporting the combined American media.

I’d be willing to bet, sadly, that Duque, Uribe’s pet, will win the second round vote. Colombia is not a democracy and the local elite and the United States are not going to allow a leftist to take the presidency, especially when the country is about to join NATO and serves U.S. interests in Latin America the way Israel does in the Middle East. The elite and the U.S. may not like Duque, but they’ll take him over Petro and pull whatever strings are needed to keep Petro out. (I hope I’m wrong about this but Duque would be one of countless thugs prettied up by the U.S. government and media when faced with similar choices.)

As I noted above, Venezuela’s government deserves criticism and so did its recent election. But reporters, how about bringing some scrutiny to Colombia and other countries in the region?

Like Brazil, where the media has with few exceptions expressed little concern about the bogus “impeachment” of President Dilma Rousseff in what was an obvious regime change operation, or the recent imprisonment of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, leader of the Workers Party, who was the overwhelming favorite to win an election set for later this year.

Hey, you might even take a look at Venezuela’s opposition leadership, like the awful Leopoldo Lopez, who has been sanctified by every American outlet from the New York Times to People.

But that would require being more skeptical of the official line put out on foreign policy from the White House and State Department (under all presidents, Democrat or Republican). I wrote about the way the media covers international politics back in 1993 for American Journalism Review:

The guidelines are simple. Rule No. 1: Third World nations are largely ignored until the White House, almost always for reasons of national security, puts one on the map. Rule No. 2: Once the perceived national security threat fades, the country in question falls back into irrelevance and obscurity.

Of course, things have changed since then. For the worse.

(Note: I’ll have more about the U.S. relationship with Uribe in a follow up story.)

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