foreign policy

Uribe Falls to Earth

Colombia's president is used to being wildly popular. But now, his flirtation with a third term may be getting him into trouble.

A year ago this week, Colombia's President Álvaro Uribe was on top of the world. Employing a clever ruse, one of the country's elite army units miraculously (and bloodlessly) rescued 15 hostages who had been held in the jungle for years. The world applauded the operation's stealth and savvy - and the release of the rebels' top political hostage, French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, as well as three U.S. defense contractors and 11 soldiers and police.

Colombia, it seemed, was coming back from the edge, and the country was ecstatic. Two days after the July 2, 2008, hostage rescue, a Gallup poll of Colombians (those with telephones in the four largest cities, at least) put Uribe's approval rating at a remarkable 86 percent. Already, the cattle rancher and conservative president had been well regarded among Colombians for battlefield gains against the 45-year-old Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) insurgency, a drug-money-fueled leftist force that systematically targets civilians for murder and kidnapping. Uribe oversaw a military buildup that reduced the guerrillas' size by half and limited its range of operations. He negotiated the demobilization of tens of thousands of pro-government paramilitary militias, reducing -- though not eliminating -- those groups' murderous activity
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