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Former Colombian leader Uribe refuses to fade into political oblivion

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The conservative ex-president announces his bid for a Senate seat in next year’s race

Former President Álvaro Uribe announced on Monday that he will make a run for the Senate next year so he can push for changes in Colombia’s political and social structures, which could put him in the line of fire alongside his main rival, President Juan Manuel Santos, who is expected to run for a second term.

Álvaro Uribe, seen here in a recent interview. / ALBEIRO LOPERA (REUTERS)
Because Uribe served two terms as president from 2002 to 2010, he is barred by the Constitution from running for the top office again.

Uribe has broken away from Colombian tradition in which former presidents quietly retire from politics after they serve their terms. He has remained active on many fronts, heading up his own foundation and publicly criticizing Santos, who served as his defense minister, on both domestic and foreign policy issues.

One of his biggest gripes has been the manner in which Santos agreed to open a peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia (FARC) insurgency without first demanding that the guerrillas lay down their arms and answer to justice. The FARC and Santos government officials have been holding brokered peace talks for nearly a year in Havana.

“We want to help tackle the problems of insecurity, the uncertainty of growth through investment, stagnant bureaucratic social policies, waste of government resources and the neglect of dialogue with citizens which threatens to deliver this country over to terrorism” and leftist forces loyal to Cuban President Raúl Castro and Venezuela’s leftist government, he told reporters reading from a statement outside his home in Rionegro, Antioquia department.
He also mentioned that the only way to abandon the armed conflict that Colombia has been subjected to over the past 50 years as it deals with the FARC is to bring the guerrillas to justice and not sit down with them to negotiate a peace, as Santos is doing.

“Security backed by democratic values is the only guarantee for stable peace,” he said.

Once close political allies, Uribe and Santos had a falling out soon after he left office in 2010 and his former minister became president. Santos immediately sought to patch up rocky relations with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez after Uribe had accused him of harboring FARC guerrillas across the border while at the same time providing them with aid and logistical support.

In announcing his senatorial candidacy for the Democratic Center party, Uribe said that Colombia needs “incentives to foment long-term investment confidence since these have been eliminated,” and proposed longer school periods as a preventive measure to keep children from falling into delinquency and drugs.

The former president also called on the elimination of inefficient private health providers and proposed a housing incentive for workers paid in part by taxing their employers. Congress should also be reduced to help curtail government spending, Uribe said.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 63 percent of those surveyed favor Uribe’s candidacy. Many believe that he will ignite the political scene while others say he will just polarize politics.

“Uribe is the only Colombian in this last century who has governed for eight years and that is a curious feat. Eight years wasn’t enough time for him to comply with his promises, which wants to carry out now from this platform,” said Congress speaker Juan Fernando Cristo of the Liberal Party in an interview with the Radio Caracol network.

For her part, Paloma Valencia, a columnist who has supported Uribe, wrote in her Twitter account that the former president could “be traveling right now but he prefers to remain to fight for his country.”
Security backed by democratic values is the only guarantee for stable peace”

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