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| 10/19/2009 12:00:00 AM

President faces 'crossroads of soul'

Oct 19--Alváro Uribe sweeps in and apologises for keeping his visitors waiting for four hours. "If you'd seen my schedule since 6.30 this morning, you would forgive me," says the 57-year-old Colombian president.

Mr Uribe, a dapper, silver-haired man who has survived 19 assassination attempts, has just finished emergency talks with his economic team. Venezuela, a troublesome neighbour, has tightened restrictions on Colombian food imports, while the soaring peso is squeezing exports.

"Every day we get more bad news from Venezuela," says Mr Uribe, whose free-market policies and pro-US stance have made him a target for Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's president. Recently Mr Chávez whipped up regional opposition to Mr Uribe's agreement to give US troops access to Colombian bases for anti-narcotics operations.

Colombia, like Brazil, has weathered the international financial crisis better than most and is forecasting growth of 2.5 per cent next year. Asked to explain his country's relative success, Mr Uribe smiles broadly and whips out a laminated flashcard with the word "CONFIDENCE" stencilled in red. "To some degree we were prepared," he says.

For the past seven years Mr Uribe has worked with a sense of crisis, battling narco-traffickers, the region's oldest leftwing guerrilla movement (Farc) and rightwing paramilitaries, along with domestic scandals. When he took office in 2002, Bogotá, the capital, was virtually encircled by the Farc, kidnappings were routine and travel around the country was possible only in armed convoys.
 
Read more here.
 
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EDICIÓN 1855

PORTADA

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