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Monday, 27 May, 2002, 20:54 GMT 21:54 UK
Analysis: Uribe's challenge
Colombian President-elect Alvaro Uribe
Uribe talks tough, but can he subdue the guerrillas?

For Alvaro Uribe, getting elected was the easy part: now Colombia's next president faces a daunting task.

Colombians have given him an overwhelming mandate to crush Marxist guerrillas, and the US has extended a warm embrace.


The guerrillas plan to give the Uribe administration, which begins on August 7, a bloody welcome

But the country's rebels are not going to just sit back now their sworn enemy has the presidency.

In his victory speech it was clear Mr Uribe was struggling with strong emotions.

He was generous to his political opponents and conciliatory in his tone.

But then he called up the memory of his father, gunned down almost 20 years ago by Marxist rebels.

"My father was a young man, scarcely a few months older than I am now, when... he was killed in a kidnap attempt, and from heaven he has interceded before our Lord for this new chapter which Colombia now begins."

Mr Uribe himself has survived 15 attempts on his life, the most recent last month, so he might be forgiven for wanting to get tough with Colombia's 22,000 Marxist guerrillas.

But this will not be easy.

Undaunted guerrillas

His plans to double the number of professional soldiers and create a militia of a million citizens are ambitious, time-consuming and expensive.

Farc guerrillas training
The FARC have ruled out any truce
Colombia is broke, and half the country is under the control of warring factions that make fortunes from drugs, kidnapping and extortion.

Sources connected to the largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), have said the guerrillas plan to give the Uribe administration, which begins on August 7, a bloody welcome and insisted that they were not daunted by his tough talk.

Like so many Colombian presidents before him, Mr Uribe is looking northward for help, presenting himself as the newest and keenest recruit in President Bush's crusade against terrorism.

Washington had warmly received Mr Uribe's message and whilst no public pronouncements had been made, it was clear he was the favourite candidate of the Bush administration.

American Help

Nobody was surprised when the US ambassador to Colombia, Anne Patterson, arrived at the Uribe campaign headquarters well before the final results were announced to congratulate the victor.

Colombian police secure a field after landing near Popayan
Uribe wants more trained soldiers
"Colombians are fed up of terrorism," she said, promising that the US would have a "very close" relationship with Mr Uribe.

Whilst one of the greatest achievements of current President Andres Pastrana was to bring Colombia back into Washington's embrace, the US was never enthusiastic about his peace process with the Marxist guerrillas, and thought a tougher line was needed.

That line is now official policy, and President Bush is seeking to increase military aid to Colombia.

The American administration is hoping to remove restrictions on more than a billion dollars in aid granted since 2000 - currently earmarked for the war on drugs.

Mr Uribe has called for greater US involvement and wants to expand Washington's Plan Colombia to include terrorism.

Independent spirit

But if the US is expecting Mr Uribe to bend over backwards to accommodate American priorities, it will most likely be disappointed, as the president elect is fiercely patriotic and independent.

"If anyone in the US thinks they can impose their agenda through Uribe they are going to be mistaken. He is not going to be an instrument of US policy," says Colombia analyst Michael Shifter in Washington.

Mr Uribe is open to dialogue with the warring factions, saying in his victory address that he would talk to them if they called a ceasefire and stopped terrorist attacks.

But everyone knows this means little, as the FARC have always insisted a ceasefire would be called only after a peace agreement had been hammered out.

So Colombia looks set for another upsurge of violence, after 38 years of civil conflict.

Yet this was likely to come no matter who won the presidency.

And if there is one man who might be able to impose some order in Colombia, it is the workaholic Uribe - a man characterised by iron discipline (he is up at five doing yoga every morning) and an obsessive sense of duty.


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27 May 02 | Americas
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