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January 15, 2009

Colombia a Model For Democracy... Bush/Cheney Style

Outrage over Bush giving the Presidential Medal of Freedom to paramilitary-linked Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is spreading, and for good reason. When your country's leader awards its highest civilian honor to a man linked to the murder of unionists and human rights activists and presides over the worst human rights abuses and deepening humanitarian disaster in the hemisphere, outrage is beyond appropriate, it's required.

MSNBC asked Lori on their 1600 Pennsylvania Ave show last night to examine the audacity of this hypocritical doublespeak.

Despite his clear record, as Bush hung Uribe's medal, Uribe was said to be "dedicated to the prosperity of Colombia's people and democratic values" (!) What's more, it was said that "under Uribe, Colombia has become a model for countries seeking reconciliation and a society based on respect for human dignity" (!)

Regular readers will know Uribe's true record: links to paramilitaries that kill union leaders, disdain and violent repression for Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples, persecution of human rights defenders - or anyone standing up to his government - casually labeling dissenters as terrorists, and a military both directly responsible and at other times merely complicit with paramilitaries in the murders of activists or just regular civilians.

There's plenty of outrage to go around. Seven leading human rights and Latin Americanist organizations (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International-USA, Center for International Policy, Human Rights First, Latin America Working Group, Refugees International, and the Washington Office on Latin America) jointly lament that the award "sends the wrong message":

The Bush administration has consistently turned a blind eye to Colombia’s serious human rights violations,” said the organizations. “Its selection of Uribe to receive this award only further tarnishes the Bush administration’s own reputation on human rights issues in the region.”

The groups pointed out that President Uribe has repeatedly taken steps and carried out policies that are damaging to human rights in Colombia.

Under President Uribe’s watch, there has been a dramatic increase in reports of extrajudicial killings of civilians by the Colombian Army.

Furthermore, they note that:

The president's [Uribe's] verbal attacks on his country’s human rights defenders have been frequent and disturbing. And Uribe has often opposed efforts to break paramilitaries’ influence in the political system, including by making unfounded accusations against the Supreme Court justices who are investigating more than 70 members of the Colombian Congress for links to paramilitaries.

Nicole Lee, Executive Director of the TransAfrica Forum had this to say in the latest installment of her syndicated column:

For the past few years, I have talked a lot about Colombia. A war is waging, but not the war mainstream media likes to talk about.

It is a war against the dreams and aspirations of Black Colombians and Uribe is waging it. While Bush calls Uribe America’s closest friend, Uribe has enacted policies that resulted in a humanitarian and human rights disaster...

She goes on:

To give Uribe an award is a slap in the face to democratic principles and common decency. So goodbye, President Bush. Can we help you pack your bags? Please be sure to take your friends with you.

Seems that once again, the bumper sticker probably speaks best to the mood of U.S. civil society about Uribe's Presidential Medal of Freedom: If you're NOT outraged, then you're not paying attention.

(Graphic Courtesy of NorthernSun.Com)


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