Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s inauguration as president of Colombia Wednesday was not an occasion steeped in pomp. An open-air event was deemed too risky in Colombia’s climate of violence; instead, a brief ceremony was held indoors. Nevertheless, El Espectador of Bogotá reported that at least 17 people were killed and 30 injured in a series of explosions that rocked the area around the presidential palace at the time of the inauguration. Immediately afterward, the new president presented his 16-point plan to Congress, an institution whose size and privileges would be severely reduced by Uribe’s proposed reforms. The proposals include shifting to a unicameral legislature, cutting the number of lawmakers from 268 to 150, reducing the pensions of senior civil servants (including congressmen) to a maximum of 20 times the minimum wage, and eliminating mandatory military service.
The Financial Times profiled Fernando Londoño, who, as head of the merged interior and justice ministries, will be responsible for shepherding Uribe’s ambitious reform plan through Congress. In addition to facing down a group of lawmakers keen to hold onto their positions and privileges, he is also tasked with creating “a legal framework that allows a harsher crackdown on the country’s powerful rebel groups” without abusing human rights. Londoño’s previous career as a high-flying corporate attorney created some potential conflicts of interest and alleged improprieties, but as the FT observed, “Uribe’s choice of Mr Londoño despite such complex factors shows that the new president is not prepared to tread softly on reforms he believes strongly in.”
Commentators agreed that Uribe’s predecessor as president, Andrés Pastrana, left the country in worse shape than he inherited it four years ago. Spain’s El Mundo summarized Pastrana’s record: “He didn’t make peace with any of the various guerrilla factions, … he couldn’t reduce the street violence caused by general delinquency [that claims] 25,000 dead and 3,500 kidnappings per year, he failed to carry out political reforms needed to clean up institutions, [and] he didn’t create the million jobs he promised.” El Tiempo of Bogotá credited Pastrana with improving Colombia’s international relations, especially with the United States, and with modernizing the armed forces, but otherwise, the editorial concluded, “Four years later, little or nothing remains of the collective emotion that produced such hopes [for] Andrés.”
If the president wants to have any chance of success, he will have to tackle two Herculean tasks. Mobilizing the country for the struggle against insurrection, inequality, and insecurity; and finding the resources to uproot narco-trafficking—by guerrillas and also by the paramilitaries. Today, Uribe is terribly alone facing a task that he knows cannot be achieved in one term, in fact it would take several lifetimes to finish.