SEMANA/Politics | 11/27/2008 12:00:00 AM
More and more the Colombian president is seen apologizing for his government’s mistakes because of false or manipulated information. Perhaps he should read the papers.
Although his critics say that they are lies to hide serious faults in his government, the vast majority of Colombians end up understanding those episodes as errors of good faith.
In the case of the pyramid scheme scandal and of DMG, the company at the center of that scandal, the long lines of pyramid scheme clients in the department of Putumayo and in the city of Pasto were so evident that they would have to have set off alarms in Bogotá. Articles in SEMANA, Cambio, El Espectador and in El Tiempo had reported that all year long. The very minister of finance was warned by the finance superintendent, but he didn’t seem to understand the urgency or, at least, he didn’t communicate that to the president. Uribe, after his team tried to place the blame on the Fiscalía, the prosecutor general’s office, was forced to admit the error in order to ward off the crisis. “I lament not having gotten personally involved in order to scrutinize the matter,” he said.
During the last two months, Uribe was also ridiculed for his false statements about the murders of 11 young men in Soacha at the hands of the military and about the shots by a police officer at an indigenous people’s protest, to give only two examples.
With regards to the false positives controversy, in which civilians were executed in order to be shown as guerilla combat deaths, only a few weeks before the scandals was revealed Uribe maintained in the Casa de Nariño presidential palace that it was about a legal war by the guerrillas. He even said that, “the fiscal general (investigator) assured that the disappeared young men in Soacha were killed in combat… a month later.” A few weeks afterwards, three generals, seven colonels and more than 15 officials were sacked because of the allegations.
Regarding the shooting by a police officer against the indigenous people who were marching, the president had to rectify and admit that if it had occurred - after CNN broadcast video of the incident.
But there have been other episodes. One of them, in August, was the scandal that involved a meeting in the Casa de Nariño by the legal and press secretaries with alias “Job,” the right hand of the paramilitary head “Don Berna.” One day after SEMANA revealed the scandal, the president called a press conference in which, computer in hand, he insisted that the visit of “Job” had never been registered. That turned out to be false.
Another case in July was about the use of a Red Cross vest in Operation Jaque (Checkmate), in which Ingrid Betancourt and other hostages were freed from FARC captivity during a daring military rescue. After insisting for several days that the vest was not used, a video appeared on CNN which showed the opposite. Again, he had to rectify things. In some sectors of public opinion, there was disbelief, because Uribe as the chief military commander must have known in detail the content of the rescue video.
All of those cases have put the president back against a wall. Despite Uribe’s courage to admit mistakes, there is a communication problem. There is a big difference between the frank and gallant attitude of a leader who apologizes and the scene of a president who appears to be playing blind man’s bluff.
The information problem is explained in the Uribe mirco-management style, that dismisses criticism and self-criticism, and dilutes responsibilities. But, above all, it has to do with the profile and agenda of his intimate circle who are more worried about feeding supposed conspiracy theories than stating necessary truths.
Several years ago the president said that he was informed about what the media was saying through his advisors. That’s a bad habit. Because if he would take some time each day to read the news, surely he would not be asking for forgiveness every two weeks for having been misinformed.