Colombia court blocks Uribe from seeking 3rd term
BOGOTA (AP) – Colombia’s Constitutional Court shut the door Friday on President Alvaro Uribe’s aspirations for a third straight term, ruling unconstitutional a law that would have let voters decide in a referendum whether he could run again.
The high court’s 7-2 decision is not subject to appeal.
The court ruled on a law passed by Congress that would have set up a referendum asking voters whether Colombia’s conservative president, a U.S. ally, could run again.
Uribe is hugely popular for seriously weakening leftist rebels, but he has also been widely criticized by human rights activists for allying himself with politicians who collaborated closely with far-right death squads.
First elected in 2002, the 57-year-old Uribe won re-election four years later after allies in Congress pushed through a law amending the constitution so he could run again.
“I heed and respect the decision of the honorable Constitutional Court,” Uribe told the nation in a live television broadcast. “I have one wish: The wish to be able to serve Colombia from whatever trench, under whatever circumstance, until the last day of my life.”
“The only sentiment I harbor is a sentiment of love for Colombia,” he added. “I wish that in the years of life that remain for me I can feel more love for Colombia.”
Upon hearing the decision, a crowd of about 100 people near the court’s downtown offices broke into applause and shouts of approval.
Uribe had been coy about whether he wanted a third term – expressing concern only that his “democratic security” policy that has seriously cut kidnapping and murder rates be continued by whomever wins elections set for May 30.
In announcing the ruling after seven hours of deliberations, the Constututional Court’s president, Mauricio Gonzalez, said justices found a number of irregularities in the passage of the law on the referendum for a third term. He said that taken together, the anomalies amounted to “a grave violation of democratic principles like transparency and voter rights.”
The court objected to, among other things, the fact that the money spent to obtain the signatures required for the referendum law exceeded the legal maximum.
Influential Colombians from leading industrialists to the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Luis Alberto Moreno, had opposed a third term for Uribe – not because they were unhappy with his tenure but because they said a third term would hurt democratic stability.
Even the U.S. government, a strong backer of Uribe, suggested it was time for him to relinquish power.
It would have been contradictory for Washington to embrace a third term for Uribe after criticizing the successful moves by Venezuela’s socialist president and strong U.S. critic, Hugo Chavez, to extend his time in office.
During a visit by Uribe to the White House last year, U.S. President Barack Obama politely suggested in front of reporters that two terms was plenty, citing the example of the first president of his country, George Washington.
Uribe’s government came under intense criticism by the United Nations and human rights groups late in 2008 over a scandal involving hundreds of extra-judicial killings by soldiers, many of whom killed peasants and then dressed them up as rebels.
The president’s popularity has consistently been about 70 percent throughout his tenure but in recent months dipped as resistance grew to his re-election.
The court’s decision Friday leaves a wide open race for those who would succeed Uribe when his term ends Aug. 7.
Associated Press Writer Frank Bajak in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this report.