Thursday, May 19, 2011

Uribe's Twitter Campaign

Uribe's Twitter photo

Former Pres. Alvaro Uribe is a conservative from a ranching family. So, it may be surprising that, post-presidency, he's embraced the Internet to express his positions.

In recent months, Uribe's expressed his opinions using a technology which didn't even exist when he was elected president: a Twitter account. And, as is his personality, Uribe hasn't been subtle. Or shy. He's even criticized head-on his succesor, Pres. Juan Manuel Santos, who was Uribe's defense minister.

'Justice?' Uribe asks in a recent tweet. 'The innocent go to prison and the evidence against terrorists is devalued.'  So, take that you bad guys! (Uribe was apparently referring to ex-members of his administration now being charged with crimes, as well as recovered guerrilla computer files.)

'Let's not be confused,' he recently retweeted. 'Iran builds military bases in Venezuela.' So, take that you bad guys!

In some of Uribe's most recent declarations, which have confronted him with Pres. Santos, he's criticized the proposed 'Law of Victims' because it refers to Colombia's armed conflict as, well, an armed conflict.

That terminology gives the leftist guerrillas more legitimacy, Uribe tweeted: 'Those who threaten the live, honor and goods of the civil population aren't in conflict with the state. They are a criminal threat.'

Uribe later explained in an interview with W Radio that he fears that declaring that Colombia has an armed conflict would "open the door" to international recognition of the guerrilla groups.

But it's a stretch to call Colombia's half-century-long conflict against leftist guerrillas nothing more than an anti-crime operation. What sort of an anti-crime operation involves much of a nation's territory, involves both the police and the army and confronts an organization with ideological sympathy from the heads of state of neighboring nations?

'The Colombian narco-terrorist groups aren't parts of the conflict,' Uribe tweeted later. 'They are criminals who perfume their actions with political discourses.'

The FARC and the ELN may have lost all their redeeming qualities and become drug-trafficking organizations. But, with a half-century history behind them, it's clear that they've got something that Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel did not.

Pres. Juan Manuel Santos'
President Juan Manuel Santos replied that, without recognizing the existence of an armed conflict, Colombia could not carry out attacks on guerrilla camps without violation human rights laws. The Santos administration also pointed out that Uribe's government had recognized the existence of an armed conflict in its demobilization measures.

In his reply Tweet, Santos took the high road: 'For President Alvaro Uribe I only have sentiments of gratitude, admiration and respect.'

During his eight-year presidency, Uribe clashed many times with journalists, sometimes even accusing them of supporting Colombian guerrillas.

Evidently, Uribe's sensibilities haven't changed. Last December, he accused Daniel Coronell, a reporter with RCN, of accepting dirty money. Coronell had written a story reporting that Uribe's son Tomás had met in Panama with businessmen competing for Colombian state contracts. That's not illegal, but certainly suggestive of influence trading.

"A Coronel Journalist launders money from the mafia with calumnies," Uribe tweeted.

Coronell tweeted back: "Mister ex-President Uribe isn't going to intimidate me with slander and calumnies. Rather, he should explain the origin of his sons' fortune."

Coronell tweeted again: "(Uribe) could not silence me with eight years of persecution and won't achieve it now. He'll have to use more drastic methods."

I can't help imagining an earlier era in which politicians and others thundered their arguments out in the public square. In a Foreign Policy interview, Uribe said that Twitter lent itself to hot-headed responses. But at least it doesn't bother the neighbors. And the opponents are less liable to grab their guns.

Uribe's activism shows his continued interest in politics and public events, and suggests that he's not done with politics. Some have suggested his name for Mayor of Bogotá, but Uribe hasn't displayed interest. It's not clear whether term limits would block Uribe from running for another presidential term.

Uribe strikes me as somewhat notable, since so few conservative ex-leaders have remained politically and socially active after leaving office. U.S. Republican Ex-Presidents Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes all got into the grandfather business post presidency, whereas Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have built reputations as statesmen and activists, as has ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Besides Twitter, Uribe also has a website and a Facebook page. And his Twitter account has gained at least one impostor, or parody.

Uribe, with 430,000 followers, and his succesor Santos, with 160,000, are reportedly the two most-followed Colombian politicians on Twitter. And Uribe does move his fingers - he's tweeted close to 5,000 times since leaving office. (In contrast, Uribe apparently never used his official presidential Twitter account.) But Uribe's tweeting can't rival that of his ideological enemy, long-winded Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez, whose Twitter account has 1.5 million Twitter followers.

However nimble Uribe may be with his Blackberry (or I-phone or Android phone...) he'll likely never achieve the literary fame of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But, with so many Twitter followers, he may have more readers.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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