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Uribe promises “peace talks” but security is priority

Monday, August 7th 2006 - 21:00 UTC
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Colombian President Alvaro Uribe inaugurated an unprecedented second term Monday, promising to seek an elusive peace with leftist rebels but warning that security remains a priority for his administration in a country ravaged by killings and kidnappings.

The first sitting president to be re-elected in Colombia's history, Uribe reformed the constitution last year to allow him a second term which he won in May 28 elections with a 62% vote, ten points more than in 2002.

The taking office ceremony was attended by eleven heads of state but also marked by the absence of presidents from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Hugo Chavez from neighbouring Venezuela with whom Uribe has maintained a tense but cordial relation. As Washington's closest ally in the region, Uribe and Chavez tend to share formalities.

Uribe said he would devote "all of his energies" to pursuing a peaceful end to this nation's four-decade old civil war but added he would not fall for a "deceitful peace". "I'm not afraid of negotiating peace. I confess what worries me more is falling short of that goal and instead seeing our gains in security eroded".

Most of his speech Uribe was devoted to underline the achievements of his "democratic security" policy which has proved the key to his overwhelming popularity. The emphasis on security was also felt by the presence of snipers standing atop tanks and 30,000 troops who formed a two-block perimeter around the Congress accessible only to journalists and dignitaries.

But regarding economics and despite his reputation as a free-market conservative, (he graduated in Harvard University) Uribe sounded closer to the social democrats. "We are against a fiscally tight macro-economic policy that leaves economic growth to the luck of supply and demand. The state must be devoted in equal parts to growth and equality".

However there were not many proposals for improving conditions of half the Colombian population that lives below the poverty line, even when the economy has been growing and improved security and market oriented policies have attracted foreign investment.

Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine and has received over four billion US dollars in mostly military aid since 2000 to help combat a combination of Marxist oriented guerrillas and drug lords.

Four years ago, Uribe's first inauguration was marred by deadly violence when leftist rebels launched a mortar attack on the presidential palace, killing 21 people in a nearby slum. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in decades of fighting among rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and state forces.

Categories: Mercosur.

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