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Thursday, 8 August, 2002, 02:55 GMT 03:55 UK
Analysis: Hard task ahead in Colombia
Andreas Pastrana (left) And Alvaro Uribe (right)
Pastrana (l) hands Uribe a plateful of problems

If Alvaro Uribe was in any doubt about the huge task facing him as Colombia's new president, the mortaring of the presidential palace during his inauguration, despite an unprecedented security operation, will have made it very clear.


I aspire within four years to be able to look you in the eyes, my fellow countrymen

Alvaro Uribe
Colombian intelligence had warned that the FARC would attempt to disrupt the swearing in ceremony and so 20,000 extra soldiers and police were brought in to create a ring of steel around the palace and the Congress.

But the ring was breached and Marxist rebels managed to get within 800 metres of their target and set off explosions and fire mortars that hit their target, killing at least 13 and wounding dozens.

But the Marxist rebels that dominate almost 40% of the country are just one of the challenges facing the Oxford-educated right-wing president.

His predecessor President Andres Pastrana said in a farewell address that "I left a country better than the one I received," a claim met with disbelieving guffaws in all too many living rooms in Bogota as it was televised.

Low point

In nearly four decades of civil conflict the situation has never been so dire.

Colombian soldier
Tight security didn't stop the attacks in Bogota
Marxist guerrillas number almost 40,000 including urban militias, their sworn enemies the right wing paramilitaries are 12,000-strong, crime levels make Colombia the most dangerous nation on earth and behind it all, drug lords use billion-dollar fortunes to feed the chaos on which their business thrives.

And if that was not enough the region has an economic Sword of Damocles poised above it as Argentina's economy collapses, sending financial shock waves that are felt to varying degrees through the whole of South America.

But the expectations Mr Uribe has raised are almost as big as the challenges facing him.

His approval rating are through the roof, but then so were those of outgoing President Andres Pastrana when he took power in 1998 on a pledge to negotiate peace with the Marxists rebels.

Mr Pastrana's popularity soon plummeted to less that 20% as it became clear that peace process was going nowhere fast, and he became a lame duck president.

Such are the expectations that Mr Uribe has generated, many fear the same roller coaster ride for him.

"Well Andres Pastrana was weak and had no plan," said waiter Jose Gonzalez, sitting down at the table he was supposed to be waiting on.

"But Uribe is a hard man and everything he has said is spot on. But then again we Colombians are not patient and we want results now followed quickly by good times."

No time or money

Mr Uribe has been trying to dampen the unreal expectations his landslide victory has generated, insisting he never promised "rivers of milk and honey".

Alvaro Uribe
Uribe: High hopes, but huge tasks
His first task will be the project of political reform, to ruthlessly prune a bloated congress with a history of corruption and cronyism.

The security forces are to be built up with more professional soldiers, but this takes time and money, of which Mr Uribe has neither.

Despite the solid backing of the US, the economy has little chance of producing more than minimal growth as foreign investment fled the country years ago and with the current security situation will not be returning.

And crime can only be dealt with once the state has control over the national territory, a distant prospect. President Uribe finished his inaugural address to the nation with this:

"I aspire within four years to be able to look you in the eyes, my fellow countrymen."

He has a busy four years ahead of him.


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06 Aug 02 | Americas
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