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Last Updated:11/25/03

Memorandum


To: Interested Colleagues
From: Ingrid Vaicius, Associate
Date: November 18, 2003

Re: Recent changes in the Uribe government

Over the last three weeks the government of President Alvaro Uribe has faced a series of challenges. A 14-point referendum of political reforms failed on October 25 for lack of voter turnout, despite heavy campaigning by the president. The next day, opposition candidates won several key posts - including mayor of Bogotá - in municipal and gubernatorial elections. The aftermath of the elections, along with discord that had been brewing within the administration, led to a series of resignations and changes in Uribe's cabinet and the military's high command.

Changes in the Cabinet

On November 6, while in a meeting with members of Conservative Party, Minister of Justice and Interior Fernando Londoño stated "if you do declare your opposition, today, we would find ourselves in a political crisis. This political crisis will only be resolved, I believe, with extreme measures-which the President has considered-including calling for early elections."[1] While the comments may have been taken out of context, the mention of early elections caused a huge political uproar. The comments, in addition to the already tense relationship between Mr. Londoño and Colombia's Congress, prompted President Uribe to accept the resignation of his "superminister."

Soon after Londoño's exit, Mr. Uribe appointed Sabas Pretelt de la Vega as his new minister. Mr. Pretelt, a member of the Conservative Party, was President of Colombia's powerful National Federation of Commerce (FENALCO). He was also a strong supporter of Mr. Uribe's referendum initiative. The new minister will face a complex legislative agenda, including economic reforms, controversial anti-terrorist legislation currently before Congress, and structural reforms to the state. "If the FENALCO president's support of the referendum was one of the reasons that led president Alvaro Uribe to notice him, Pretelt must now prove that he can translate the managerial capacity he has displayed as President of FENALCO to his relationships with Congress," indicated the Colombian newsweekly Cambio.[2]

On Sunday, November 9, the Uribe government was shaken by another unexpected resignation: that of Minster of Defense Marta Lucía Ramírez. Ms. Ramirez, Colombia's first female defense minister, gained a reputation for effectiveness at implementing Uribe's controversial "Democratic Security" strategy and radically changing many of the Ministry's practices, including strategies to demand accountability and transparency against corruption. However, her strong character gave way to tensions between the Military High Command. The strain between Ramírez and Armed Forces Chief Gen. Jorge Mora was so tense that, during her last three weeks in office, she and Gen. Mora were not even speaking to each other.[3]

Ultimately, these rifts were seen as counterproductive and President Uribe accepted her resignation.

He appointed Jorge Alberto Uribe Echavarría as the new minister. Mr. Uribe Echavarria has no political or defense background, but is "part of a select group of people, most of which are businessmen, who President Uribe consults with on a regular basis," according to Cambio.[4] During his first statements, the minister-elect indicated that the Ministry of Defense "will support the president in search for peace, a search that may come, if that is the case, to require war." [5]

On November 11th President Uribe accepted the resignation of his Minister of Environment and

Housing, Cecilia Rodriguez. While little was said about the reasons for her departure her replacement has stirred up some controversy. Sandra Suárez, Uribe's former director for implementing Plan Colombia, is now charged with protecting Colombia's environment. Environmental groups believe it sends the wrong message to appoint an official who actively promoted dramatically expanded aerial herbicide fumigation as part of her last position.[6] With only 15 months of public experience, Ms. Suarez will face significant challenges.

That same day German Bula, director of Colombian Agency for International Cooperation (ACCI), the office charged with obtaining international resources, resigned. President Uribe decided to join the ACCI with the office for Plan Colombia and create a "High Counselor for Social Action (Alta Conserjería para la Acción Social)".

Changes in the Armed Forces

On November 11 General Teodoro Campo, Director of the Colombian National Police, was asked by the president to submit his resignation. During his 15 months at the job, four major scandals rocked Colombia's Police: two tons of cocaine were lost with the complicity of police agents in Atlántico department; a kidnapping gang made up of policemen and prosecutors was disbanded; 29 members of the police were found to be stealing fuel from the institution; and, most recently, revelations emerged of misuse of funds by the Medellín police.[7] The General's lack of action after these scandals was cited as the main reason for his departure.

General Campo has been replaced by Brigadier General Jorge Daniel Castro Castro. Over his 30-year career with the Colombian police, Castro has served as Director of the anti-kidnapping (GAULA) unit, Commander of the Medellín police and chief of the Search Bloc (Bloque de Búsqueda) to apprehend drug-cartel leaders. Most recently Castro was the Director of the Bogotá metropolitan police. In that position Castro focused his attention on the fight against terrorism and intelligence work, seeking to dismantle FARC cells in Bogotá. Brigadier General Castro led the so far inconclusive investigation of the February 2003 bombing of the El Nogal social club. [8]The misuse of funds in Medellín also prompted Leonardo Gallego, Commander of the Medellín Metropolitan Police and a former head of the police's anti-narcotics division, to present his resignation.

After the departure of Minister Ramírez, Armed Forces Commander General Jorge Enrique Mora

resigned on November 12. The military high command was to have changed by year's end, bringing with it Gen. Mora's retirement; however, after the defense minister's exit, these changes were sped up. Once the new minister was named, reports Cambio, "General Mora began to consider early retirement from active duty. After giving it some thought, he decided to talk with the President. …Uribe agreed with the decision, but asked him to stay on for one more week while the high command was established."[9]

On November 18, General Jorge Pineda Carvajal, the Commander of Jungle Brigade 27 based out of Putumayo, was asked to resign due to allegations of misuse of funds while he was Director of Intelligence of the Armed Forces in 2001.

That same day, Defense Minister Uribe confirmed the new military high command. General Carlos Alberto Ospina, former head of the army, is replacing General Mora as the new commander of the armed forces. General Ospina is known as a "soldier's soldier" who enjoys being on the battlefield. Ospina has led the Special Forces and 2nd Mobile Brigade, and directed operation 'Conquista' against narco-trafficking in Guaviare and Vaupés. He also led the Fourth Brigade in Medellín and served as the army's director of operations. The new head of the army is Major General Martín Orlando Carreño. Carreño was the army's chief of operations after leading the army's Second Division in Bucaramanga, Santander department. The chief of the air force is still General Édgar Alfonso Lésmez Abad, who assumed his post in September, and Vice Admiral Mauricio Alfonso Soto Gómez remains as head of the Navy.

All these adjustments come in the wake of the Uribe administration's first major political defeat. It is clear that some of the changes within the cabinet were brewing for a long time -Londoño's outspoken ways had already landed him in trouble more than once, and it was unlikely that the tension between Ramírez and the military high command was going to disappear. These two resignations, added to the electoral defeat, led Uribe to make a series of dramatic adjustments. For now it may seem that a more profound crisis has been averted. Yet it is far from clear whether Uribe - who remains popular in Colombia, according to most polls - will be able to pursue his agenda as easily as before.



[1] El Tiempo, "Londoño Arma Alboroto Político," November 6, 2003 Can be found online at http://eltiempo.terra.com.co/hist_imp/HISTORICO_IMPRESO/primer_hist/2003-11-06/ARTICULO-WEB-NOTA_INTERIOR_HIST-1311490.html

[2] Revista Cambio, "La Hora de Sabas," November 17, 2003.

[3] Revista Semana, "Monona," November 17, 2003.

[4] Revista Cambio, "Los Secretos del Remezon," November 17, 2003 Available on line at: http://www.revistacambio.com/html/portada/articulos/1714/

[5] EFE News Agency, "Nuevo Ministro de Defensa de Colombia dice que la Paz puede requerir Guerra," November 10, 2003, Can be found on-line at: http://terra.com/actualidad/articulo/html/act165332.htm.

[6] El Tiempo Editorial, "Carambola a Tres Bandas," November 12, 2003.

[7] El Tiempo, "Cae la Cúpula de la Policía," November 12, 2003.

[8] Ibid. November 12, 2003.

[9] Revista Cambio, "Los Secretos del Remezon," November 17, 2003.

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