President Alvaro Uribe's hometown newspaper reported Thursday that Colombia's immensely popular leader will not seek a third consecutive term in 2010 elections.
"President Uribe is not running for a second re-election. El Colombiano is in a position to affirm that the president has already decided to step aside so new leaders can assume power," the Medellin newspaper reported. El Colombiano did not reveal its sources. Uribe, first elected in 2002, and one of former President George W. Bush administration's closest allies, has been consistently cagey on whether he would seek another four years. In Switzerland on Thursday for the World Economic Forum, he ducked a Colombian radio journalist's question on whether he would try for re-election. "What else can I be thinking about but democratic security, investor confidence and social cohesion?" he said. One of his closest advisers, Jose Obdulio Gaviria, would neither confirm nor deny the report. However, he said he believes Uribe should run. To make that possible, Colombia's constitution would have to be amended for a second time, and the change would have to be approved by the Constitutional Court and by voters in a referendum. Uribe allies alienated much of the country's political elite in December by ramming an amendment bill through Congress' lower house. The upper house is to consider the legislation in March. The 56-year-old Uribe is widely credited with significantly lowering kidnap and murder rates with a US-aided military build-up that has badly crippled the last remaining Marxist oriented rebel organization in South America. But human rights groups say Uribe did it while largely turning a blind eye to alliances between Colombia's military and right-wing death squads. More over and in spite of his close links with Washington, the Bush administration was unable to have a free trade agreement with Colombia approved by the Democrat controlled US Congress. Democrats (besides fearing more job losses to overseas) basically questioned the Uribe administrations human rights records. The idea of amending the constitution for a second time to enable Uribe re-election has also been frowned upon in Washington. Analysts say US officials would find it difficult to support a third term for Uribe when they have so vigorously objected to attempts by presidents in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia to similarly extend their rule.