President Alvaro Uribe answered your questions in a special recorded edition of Talking Point.
Colombian president Alvaro Uribe is seeking to change his country's constitution to allow him to serve an unprecedented second term.
Mr Uribe is a controversial president, admired by many in Colombia for taking a tough line against the guerrillas, but criticised by human rights groups for not clamping down on abuses.
Mr Uribe's "democratic security" strategy is believed to have helped to contain two leftist insurgent groups and a growing right-wing paramilitary organization.
By the end of 2005 Uribe plans to disarm thousands of paramilitaries in what would be the biggest demobilisation of irregular fighters in Colombian history. Colombia has suffered from 40 years of internal conflict, making it the longest-running in Latin America.
Colombia supplies 80% of the world's cocaine and is the world's third-largest recipient of US military aid.
What would you ask Colombia's president? Should he be seeking re-election? Is Colombia a safer place now? Is President Uribe winning the war on drug production? What is your opinion on the US-military and security assistance to Colombia?
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
Since the drugs permeated Colombian society in the sixties we have had an ever increasing escalation of violence and terrorism promoted by the leftist guerrillas that lost their political ideals long time ago. The last four governments have been unable to curb this violence and even Pastrana´s administration was bitterly humiliated and forced to its knees by the leftist guerrillas. During more than 30 years we have tried to make a deal with the guerrillas, whose only goal is to overthrow the government at all costs, situation that is only worsened by weak governments.
Only President Uribe's government has had a strong commitment and decision to take the right path and restore order in a nation on the verge of collapse. Today hope has reborn again and although we know that even two successive terms in government by our president will not fix all the woes that appal us actually, they will certainly lay the road for a better future.
Carlos Gomez Vila, Bogotá
I think, the government of Colombia should adopt some policy that can unite all sections of the society and induce the spirit of nationalism/patriotism amongst the guerrilla groups and drug barons in particular. An innovative sports and youth welfare oriented policy may perhaps help achieving these objectives. Some neighbouring countries of Colombia are happened to be very popular and advance in sports, for example, Brazil. The Colombian government may initially organise few regional or international sports events in the country to attract the people to the field sports. The government may also appeal to the guerrilla groups and drug czars to give up their arms and antisocial activities and join hands with it in making Colombia a strong and internationally respected nation.
Jayanta Sharma, Assam, India
I was born in Colombia but have lived most of my life in the United States. Last month I returned to Colombia for the first time in twenty years. During my time there I had the opportunity to visit Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities. While these communities are engaging in inspiring work of peaceful resistance, Uribe's hard line military policies have exacerbated the violence these communities are caught between and increased the displacement of people of colour and augmented poverty.
Uribe's push for increased control will not only perpetuate these underlying roots of the civil strife in Colombia, but will further erode the 1991 Constitution that Uribe has been chipping away at.
Gabriela C Flora, Denver, Colorado
I am an English citizen, married to a Colombian, and I lived in Colombia for 14 years. After having seen the three presidents previous to Uribe achieve little, if nothing, to combat the security problem that Colombia faces, Uribe's achievements are extremely heartening. There is, no doubt, a great deal that still needs to be done to obtain lasting political, economic and social growth in Colombia. But this will be made easier if there is some continuity of policies from the Casa de Narino.
John Wells, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Having lived in Colombia for a while now, I have experienced first hand the improvement in the general security situation. People feel safer to travel by road to visit beautiful, previously dangerous areas, but this benefits mainly the upper classes. Those with cars, and fincas in the country now have more freedom to enjoy, but what about the thousands of displaced people on the streets of the Colombian cities? What about the state of health care, and other basic provisions for the poor people who need it most? It seems to me that all (most) of the resources are going to fight the war, in order to continue receiving funding from the US. Plan Colombia isn't working, and never has.
Andy Cocker, Cali, Colombia
Mr President, the Colombian working class has been the most affected by your economic policies, and the totally unfavourable changes regarding the job situation: the wages have been reduced, people have lost job security, everything the unions have achieved in 20 years has disappeared, the massive redundancies in the companies of the state have caused grief, hunger and hopelessness. All the taxes have attacked the working class, making the poor poorer. Your economic policies towards the big industrialists have been the opposite, favouring them.
Yamell Ziade Benitez, Cali, Colombia
I support the opportunity of re-electing Mr. Uribe. Human rights groups outside Colombia do not see what has been happening for the past 20 years. The drug problem cannot be solved in just 4 years and has to be sorted out with the help and support of the international community.
Luisa Martinez, Canberra, Australia
Being a Dane married to a Colombian, I have had the privilege of visiting and trade with the country. Due to their competitive and skilled labour force, strategic geographical location, significant natural resources and the sustained economic growth, I predict a very bright future for the country. Trust me, Colombia will prevail! By eradicating the guerrilla obstacle, Colombia can speed up this process themselves.
However, Colombia is crying at the moment, but let's all work together for a better life for her. We can begin by re-electing Alvaro Uribe!
Kraen Andersen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Happy to be a Colombian-born and a US citizen. I am very much inspired by Uribe, and hope to go back and work in Colombia. I am just concerned that the country is not united yet. We all need to work together to achieve peace in Colombia. .
Jorge, North Carolina
If the Colombian people choose to re-elect Uribe, it is democracy in action. Colombians have a greater understanding of the difficulties their country faces and possible solutions to those problems. It is difficult and improper to superimpose politics onto a nation without taking into consideration the culture. I have been living in Colombia for 6 years and although I vehemently disagree with Uribe's fight fire with fire politics, I must say, that it is working. I no longer have bombs in my neighbourhood, nor do I feel I could be kidnapped at any moment. I can travel to places which were no-go areas. Colombians have a violent culture and unfortunately peaceful negotiations do not yet have a place in this conflict. I, in principle, do not support Uribe, but I do support democracy and I do respect cultural differences.
Paul Ryan, Cali, Colombia
President Uribe, do you regard the recent wave of leftist victories in South America's presidential elections as a signal towards a growing discontentment with the US? Do you believe that your country's alliance with the U.S. should be re-examined?
Erik Cooke, Washington, DC
It's quite difficult for the rest of the world to understand our internal situation when you don't live the every day of our nation. The people that live in the big cities (including myself) have a better and more secure life than the people living in the little towns, but I can tell everyone that I also have family living in those little towns that have seen how in the past two years the violence level has decreased in a considerable way. Those places that people forgot about or they were afraid to visit, have come to life again. President Uribe is doing a great job.
Heidi Romero, Bogotá, Colombia
I think that Uribe should seek a re-election because you cannot partly bring back a country on the road in such a short term. I must say that I witnessed the great change he conducted in Colombia such as being a safer country where you can almost travel everywhere by land freely and that was impossible just 4 years ago. International and local investors are back booming the Colombian economy. Uribe is winning the war on drug production.
While it is true that Colombia is the supplier of 80% of the world's cocaine. It is crucial that the United States takes a better approach in dealing with the program domestically. The United States cannot pretend that by just containing the supply, the drug problem will end. If the demand is still present, the supply would come from anywhere in the world. Colombia has to take into account this information as well, and also concentrate in the domestic agenda to create jobs and improve education. By creating more opportunities for people, there are going to be less individuals involved in the drug empire/business
Katherine Lopez, Queens
Being a Colombian living in the US, it is inspiring to see such an honourable and capable president take charge of our ravaged country. Uribe has done what no other president has dared to do in the fight against the leftist guerrillas, and that is to take a tough stance with these terrorists. President Pastrana tried peace talks, and they proved to be fruitless. Uribe has done a fabulous job clamping down on these criminals and one can only hope that he will remain in office for four more years to finish what he started.
Stephanie Majerowicz, San Jose, CA, USA
My family was victim of kidnapping in Colombia. I support president Uribe and I would support his re-election. However, I don't see much progress in clamping down the guerrilla. When Mr. President? How long more do we have to wait?
Diego Molina, Lisbon, Portugal
President Uribe may be a Colombian patriot and he may be taking a tough stance against guerrillas but he is not wining the war on drug production. Mr Uribe, like many of his predecessors, appears to be too much the American friend. One must ask the question would he be as supported if he was on the left whilst still pursuing a tough line against guerrillas?
Patrick, Thurles, Ireland
I visited Colombia in February of this year. I met with several trade unionists, campesino activists and human rights workers in Bogota, Cali and Serevena, Arauca. The evidence I saw and heard for myself was that under the Uribe regime, arbitrary detentions (based on paid informants) escalated dramatically while assassinations of trade unionists and other activists continued unabated. Paramilitaries and the army units were both involved in these killings.
3 of the trade unionists I met in Arauca were executed by army units in Serevan only last month. Uribe may have the favour of the middle classes but the mass of poor and working class in Colombia see only escalating poverty, unemployment and vicious repression of any from their ranks who stand in the way of the government and its neo-liberal destruction of Colombia's economy. Under the guise of a war on terror Uribe continues to declare war not only on the guerrillas but anyone who fights against his political and economic strategy.
Matt, London, UK
Following the acquittal of the Colombia Three, shouldn't the Colombian government order the immediate release of the three Irishmen if they have any faith in their own legal system?
Cormac, Dundalk, Ireland
Uribe is the most popular president in the history of Colombia. He is not the choir boy of the traditional political parties and most Colombians respect that. He came from nowhere. I can attest to this fact because I worked on his understaffed and totally under funded presidential campaign. With months for the election to come, the office ran out of fliers.
Gustavo Ortiz, New York
Uribe does not seem to be doing much to protect the trade unionists and campesinos of which hundreds are killed every year. The country may be safer in the cities, but for much of the population in the country, and those with left wing tendencies there out look is frankly worse. More needs to be done to tackle the AUC, and the power of the army. Uribe does not seem to be doing this.
Tim Crane, Perth, Australia
Colombia needs a President with your qualities. However re-elections in the 19 and 20 Centuries (Obando and Lopez) were disastrous. Isn't any one that can follow your policies for 4 years?
Walter Vargas, Managua, Nicaragua
Uribe is a patriot that claims for international solidarity. Drugs are not only a problem of production but also of consume. The US has provided enormous help with evident results. Europe is still behind an unconvinced by the goods of this true patriot. Why are foreign wars so attractive for many European countries? Why not support Uribe in his loyal plan for a better country. I see a clearer and cleaner Colombia for my children in the future. He must be protected and re-elected for a second term.
President Uribe has worked miracles in his office so far. He has taken the reins of office to work for a better Colombia and not to increase his own bank account. A true patriot and future generations will revere him.
A. McEwen, London UK
God bless President Uribe, may he seek re-election and win. Colombia is a rich and beautiful country. It is time to return the country to its people and let them live free, safe and prosperous. As a Colombian that has lived most of his life in the USA I hope that one day I can call Colombia my second home.
Humberto, New York, USA
Uribe has balanced the urgency to get results with the need to operate via a constitutional framework. Moreover, Colombia needs the stability that a second-term option for effective leaders might allow. What Uribe needs to do is balance many historic concerns - federal control vs. departmentalism, longer terms of office vs. the fears of a single-party monopoly, and reliance on US aid vs. historically grounded concerns of US imperialism and exploitation. He seems to be very capable, and it would be a shame for Colombia to lose an opportunity to choose whether they want him for another four years.
Shawn Parker, Providence, RI, USA
Mr Uribe, as a Colombian who voted for you, I can't recall you mentioning the word "re-election" in the past campaign. There are many ethical, moral and political problems with re-electing a serving president in a country with no re-election. The main problem being changing the rules as you go, as opposed to agreeing on the rules beforehand. It seems that your re-election bid will epitomize the "politiqueria" (political foul play) that you've pledged to eradicate.
Nicolas Canal, Bogota, Colombia
I am a Colombian-born US citizen who has lived in the US since 1980. The solution to Colombia's issues is complex and difficult. It needs short-term as well as long-term elements; that is, it needs to be sustainable. More importantly, the solution to violence is not more violence. Therefore, the solution must involve multiple people of different backgrounds who are committed to a peaceful way of life, and they need to make sure it is what Colombia wants and needs, not what an outside interest says Colombia needs. Colombia needs to be careful not to get caught in a situation where an outside interest that provides aid does not drive the decision-making process by placing conditions on its aid. Will Colombia choose to do that?
Hernando Albarracin, Springfield, IL, USA
I am a Colombian by origin, but I have lived in the United States half my life. I have to say that Uribe has been the best president Colombia has had in years. I am currently an Intern at Lockheed Martin, and one thing that I have learned here is that although diplomatic tools are effective, they do not work all the time. Sometimes force is necessary. As for the war on drugs...legalize all drugs and tax them¿ this would put a halt to the drug trafficking business. Furthermore, I support Uribe's re-election, because already I have seen the change in Colombia when I returned two years ago. I am sure he will continue doing good to the country.
Mariana Gonzalez, Miami, Florida
As a Colombian living in the US, I have mixed feelings about Uribe. Statistics look good on paper. But, every year when I go to Colombia, I see poor people getting poorer, rich people getting richer and left wing members continuously getting their way. Uribe has certainly made very positive changes to a beautiful country with a lot of problems. But, re-election is a very dangerous road. I don't think Colombia or any other Latin American country is ready for that yet.
Ivonne Schafer, Sacramento, CA, USA
I recently visited Colombia after a 4 year absence, and frankly I did not see any of the socioeconomic improvements claimed by those behind Plan Colombia! I still could not visit family members in rural Colombia, they tell me I can't go there with my foreign wife... Neither I could hike the beautiful national parks as I did 10 years ago... friends tell me that some trails in Farallones National Park, for example, are now mine fields..... ahh, and unemployment is very high: In Bogotá and Cali I saw increased numbers of indigents and displaced individuals. In Cali I saw the fast transformation beautiful residential neighbourhoods into informal markets!
Leo Gómez, Los Angeles, U.S.A.
Being a Colombian, and living outside of it. I have come to learn that the war in Colombia has just become a business for the country. The government gets billions from foreign aid and the guerrillas get billions more from illegal trade. Money is just coming in from every side. Until the influx of $$ stops or lowers, there will be no encouragement for either side to find a real solution.
Jorge, Boston, USA
I'm a US citizen married to a Colombian; we live in the UK. While I broadly agree that a stronger line against all the illegal armed groups in Colombia is a very good thing, I am concerned that not enough is being done to address Colombia's underlying social and economic problems. In particular, I am concerned that the current Colombian administration's adversarial stance against human rights groups and other NGOs will only alienate and aggravate the international community just when Colombia most needs international support.
Carl Anderson, Cambridge, UK
Yes, President Uribe should (must) seek re-election to advance in the war on drugs that he is not winning, improve the Country's safety and end the more than 40 years of internal conflict. All the above with the well deserved US military assistance.
Julio A. Silva, Turbaco - Colombia
Having lived in Bogota for 5 months this year, and travelled around Colombia extensively, I am happy to say that Colombian people are delightful and that the country is changing for the better. It is changing slowly which is also good. However, there is a danger that USA instigated commercialism and materialism will poison all the good in Colombia, and with an already existing and extremely advanced and efficient crime network, jealousy, corruption and materialism founded on the USA principle of consumerism and brand names and snob attitudes could and will probably ruin everything good about the country.
Simon Throup, UK but in New Zealand right now
Welcome to Talking Point. I'm Bridget Kendall and today we're bringing you a very special programme from Bogotá, the capital of Colombia in Latin America.
After 40 years of civil war it's no wonder that Colombia has got a reputation for violence. It's had one of the highest murder rates in the world, one of the highest rates of kidnapping and the attempts by the government to battle against left wing guerrilla insurgents on the one hand and right wing paramilitary groups on the other, has been complicated by the fact that both armed groups are thought to be deeply embroiled in drugs trafficking and production.
But in the past two years there's been a new strategy and it's been the brainchild of the new president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe. And I'm here in the presidential palace in Bogotá and I'm joined by President Uribe to answer your emails and phone calls.
President Uribe, thank you very much for joining us. I think nobody could dispute the challenge that you have in front of you and just to begin with I wanted to read you this email we have had from Yamel Rincon in Caracas, Venezuela, she asks: Do you think that one day people in Colombia will stop living in fear of being kidnapped or killed?
First of all, thank you very much for coming to Colombia. You said that Colombia has been living for 40 years with civil war - we have not a civil war.
On one side, we have a democratic country providing all the citizens with public freedoms, with democratic freedoms. On the other side, we have a group of terrorists, setting a big challenge to our people - very rich people with illegal drugs and with a great military power.
To answer the question from Caracas, we are doing our best to defeat kidnapping. Last year we saw a reduction in kidnappings of 27% and this year, kidnapping for ransom, we have seen a new decline of 55%. I cannot promise miracles, but with perseverance, fighting every day, we will overcome the problem of kidnapping in Colombia.
Now you've had two years in office, you've got to years more but according to the constitution in Colombia, you would then have to step down but you want to change the constitution to have another four years. Do you reckon those four more years would be enough?
Colombia needed many years, many governments, many political leaders committed to defeat terrorism to recover security for our people. This is the only way to give our people the possibility to live in Colombia with happiness. To find opportunities in Colombia, to find more jobs, to develop all the possibilities in education and culture to invest in Colombia.
Let's go to our first caller, Anthony Wedge, London, England. Anthony what's your question to the President?
My question President Uribe would be how are you going to solve the big problem of unemployment in your country if you are re-elected for a second term?
When my government began, we had an unemployment rate of roughly 17%. In the last quarter of this year, we had an unemployment rate of 12.8%. We have created by the private sector more than 1,100,000 new employee positions. Many people have returned to social security - Colombia at this moment is getting a huge amount of private investment with security, with good micro economic management with transparency.
We are creating conditions for people to trust more and more in Colombia, to invest more and more in Colombia and to create job opportunities for Colombians.
Anthony, I think you've got family in Colombia. A big question about the things the President has been talking about, is do people feel safer here - does your family feel safer?
In Bogatá they feel safer where obviously they have the nucleus of a capital city. I go every year back to Colombia to see my family and I feel very safe in Bogotá - even safer in Bogotá than I do sometimes feel in London. I think that the overall situation is improving in Colombia and I just hope that one day that we'll be able to travel all around the country without any fear of being kidnapped or anything like that.
It is very important to state that during the last few years, Colombians have had the opportunity to travel around the country safer - we'd like much more safety. But the job that is being done by our police, by our army - this job is paying off, providing Colombians with much more security, with much more safety - giving Colombians the possibility to travel around the country - to increase tourism, to create employment. And the second step we want is to provide with this same kind of trust to the international community to promote international tourists - for international tourists to come to visit Colombia.
Let's go to another caller now and see what Ivonne Schafer in Sacramento in the USA has to say. Ivonne, you're a Colombian living in the US, what's your view on this, do you think Colombia is getting safer?
Hello Mr Uribe, it is an honour to speak with you. I think it's safer. I am impressed with some of the positive changes that Mr Uribe has made in our country. But I have a question regarding the paramilitaries.
It's been said that funding for the repatriation is going to be taken in part or in total from the pensions of retirees who need this money to survive - is that the case?
Also I'd like to know what is being done to prevent the FARC from taking over the territory the paramilitaries are in control of and also to help the citizens in those areas?
Ivonne, am I right in saying, you want the President to explain how he's going to fund the demilitarisation of the paramilitaries?
But what is the relationship between the demilitarisation of these groups - the demobilisation of these groups and the pension issue? I didn't understand the relationship Ivonne made between the demobilisation of this illegal groups and the issue of pensions.
It has been said that the funding for the repatriation is going to be taken partly from the pensions of the retirees.
Is that the case President?
No, no, no. Colombia has introduced two pension reforms. The first one in the year '93, the second at the very beginning of my administration and now we are on the way in congress to introduce the third pension reform in order to provide pensioners with more security for them to receive their pensions. In Colombia we are solving all the problems - in this case for Colombians to enjoy the right to receive their pensions.
One aim of my reform is to eliminate privileges in the present pension system in order to afford, with less difficulty, the possibility to pay on time the pensions for our people.
The second point, we can no longer have a country submitted by guerrillas or defended by paramilitary groups - we need institutional control. Therefore, the effort of my administration is one Colombia without guerrillas, one Colombia without paramilitary groups. In those areas in which paramilitaries demobilise and disarm, my government will make the best effort in order to provide people with security through the job of our institutional forces.
In my turn, we have enlarged the police and the army. Colombians are paying much more taxes in order to give my fellow country citizens institutional security. This is what Colombia needs - no guerrillas, no paramilitaries, institutional security, transparent security, effective security.
Yvonne, do you think that President Uribe should change the constitution and run for re-election?
I have mixed feelings about it. I have no doubt of the incredible changes and positive changes he's made to our country. But I also know that our country is not ready for re-election in any other Latin American countries. Corruption has been reduced but there is still a lot of corruption and I just don't feel that we are ready for that.
This is something quite a few people have written to us about Mr President. That if you want to change the constitution for re-election, given the experience elsewhere in Latin America - Peru for example, Argentina - is this a good idea?
We cannot make this comparison. Firstly I don't like to intervene in this debate because this debate is in congress. But if you look at many democracies in my region, you see that they have enlarged the stretch of the presidential term or they have introduced re-election. Re-election is an unavoidable question in the process of democratic development.
Our people have matured a lot. In the year '88, we introduced for the first time direct elections of mayors. There was a lot of opposition but it has improved a lot the local administration in Colombia.
Afterwards the '91 constitution introduced the election of governors. Now we have enlarged the terms of governors and mayors and they are doing better. Four years is a very short time and we have to trust in the maturity and the good sense of our electorate.
But it seems that what some people are saying is 4 years may be a short time and maybe another four years for you might help you with what you're trying to do - you've talked about the progress you've made. But what about in the future if another president is elected, maybe eight years of him wouldn't be such a good idea?
The best defence for the people is democracy. The best defence for democracy is the good judgment of the people. We have to trust in the judgment of the people. Therefore what is most important is to preserve the constitutional freedoms for our people to have the opportunity to express their judgment. Judgment is the way to defend democracy - the judgment of the people.
Let's go to another caller now. Paul Ryan is on the line from Cali in Colombia. Paul I think you've been living here six years. What's your view on this question?
I have been living here six years. I have noticed a great difference in the country, especially in Cali for the last six years it has become much safer.
In around 1999 - 2000 there were bombs constantly within the city. There was a very high risk of being kidnapped - of being pulled out of whatever institution, office or home. And in the last year and half, two years I have seen 180 degree turn. I don't feel threatened, I don't feel insecure, I haven't heard any bombs and kidnappings have gone tremendously.
I do believe the Colombians are willing to vote again and to re-elect President Uribe. If he is elected, that is democracy. I believe Colombians can decide for themselves who is the best. My question is, what sort of plan do you have for continuity if you're not elected? To whom will you pass the torch of this plan in making this country safer? Do you have someone? Do you have a party? Do you have a group that's backing with you that you can pass the torch to if you are (1) not allowed to be re-elected or (2) if you were not re-elected, where does the country go from here?
When I was presidential candidate, I said to my fellow country citizens, to overcome these problems we need many presidential terms - of course with different leaders. Therefore, with or without re-election, I have to work to create strong leadership in Colombia to defend the core of these ideals with outstanding leaders and to give this country the opportunity to have a line of leaders with the same core ideas in order to recover law and order.
Until the last day of my life, I will work for this country with love for Colombians, with love for this country. Maybe I will look to the elected mayor in any municipality in Colombia at the end of my public life.
Do you have a team though - people who can carry on this plan?
Yes, we are working very hard to create a team to convince of the advantages of these ideas and to transfer the torch to them in order for them to continue the job. Of course introducing changes because my government could have made a lot of mistakes in the term I still have in front of me maybe I will make many mistakes because I am a human being with good faith, with love for this country. Therefore, continuity is a very important point to express continuity by changing - by introducing adjustments - continuity with permanent adjustments. It is a dialectic vision of politics needed in a country with the problems of Colombia.
So in the past two years, what mistakes do you think you have made?
Of course many, many but I haven't stopped yet to look at my mistakes - maybe in the future I will do it - because every morning I have to get up and to begin working on the daily problems of my country. Therefore, I haven't had the mind, the time, to reflect on my mistakes.
Let's look in a bit more detail at some of the things that you have been doing. One for example, is your fight against left wing guerrillas - the FARC in particular as they're called. We've had a couple of emails, this one is from Stephanie Majerowitz, San Jose, California, USA, she says: Uribe has done what no other president has dared to do in the fight against the leftist guerrillas, and that is to take a tough stance. Former President Pastrana tried peace talks, and they proved to be fruitless. Uribe has done a fabulous job clamping down on these criminals
But then we've had another email from Diego Molina, Lisbon, Portugal: My family were victims of kidnapping in Colombia. I support President Uribe
and I would support his re-election. However, I don't see much progress in
clamping down on the guerrillas. When Mr President? How much longer do we have to wait?
So he doesn't see enough progress on the clampdown.
This is very difficult to put a date for the final positive results. We will win but we haven't won yet. I cannot promise miracles. But all my fellow country citizens can be assured that I will do my best at every hour, at every minute, to recover law and order and security for this country. Maybe it takes longer than we have expected but with perseverance, dedication and good faith we will get the victory. I don't know when.
We have already been hearing from callers that in some parts, especially cities, they feel safer. But there are some who say pushing back the FARC guerrillas to their mountain and jungle strongholds might just mean they sit there and they're actually well enough funded, particularly from drug trafficking, just to wait and bide and wait their time.
Yes, we have to fight them every day and there will be a moment in which they will say to themselves we have to stop terrorist attacks and we have to negotiate seriously with the government. There will be day when they will come to negotiate seriously with good faith. But to achieve this day, we have to fight them with all our determination.
We have a caller on the line from Oxford, Marcus Holmlund who wants to ask you a question about the impact of your fight against the leftist guerrillas on countries of the region.
President Uribe, your security study of direct combat against the insurgency groups has been very successful in driving these groups towards the outer regions of Colombia.
Now given the porous borders of your country, the operation of these groups have been consequently extended increasingly to neighbouring countries and are contributing to social and economic unrest particularly in those border regions. My understanding is that this is especially true for Ecuador and Venezuela. So considering the weak diplomatic relations between Colombia and these nations, what are the plans for cooperation in combating these negative effects particularly with reference to Ecuador?
My government has looked for the best relationships with our neighbouring countries, with our brother countries. We have improved our relationships with Ecuador, with Peru, with Brazil, with Venezuela. Last week we received a visit from President Chavez and my guess is that every government in the region has the conviction that Colombia has to defeat this problem otherwise they will suffer the problem because wealthy terrorist groups with illegal drugs funding themselves, such as the case as in of Colombia, they do not respect borders. When they feel that have no opportunity in Colombia they will try to get their opportunity in the neighbouring countries.
Therefore, the defeat of drugs needs to be a regional aim. The defeat of terrorism needs to be a regional aim, a regional goal. And we are working with our neighbours to convince them that our democracy in Colombia deserves the cooperation of all democratic governments in the world including our brother governments in the region for Colombia to defeat terrorism. If Colombia wins nowadays, the other countries will assure their future.
Does that answer your question Marcus?
I'd like to know a little bit specifically what is being done. I'm very well aware that regional cooperation is absolutely necessary but are there any specific policies being implemented right now?
Of course. With Panama we put a police presence on the border line in both oceans - in the Pacific and the Caribbean. In the last 18 months, we haven't had problems with these borders.
The government of Panama, the last one of Mrs Moscoso and the new one of President Torrijos, they have recognised the efforts made by Colombia to improve the control of the border line. One year ago, many Colombians who left Colombia as displaced people and went to Panama, they came back to Colombia and they are living in our country.
In the case of the border line with Ecuador, we have increased the presence of our military forces near this border line with more than 7,000 soldiers and police officers.
With the government of Peru, we have had close cooperation and we have had significant progress in this border. We have captured many FARC leaders.
With the government of Brazil, we have anti-terror, anti-drugs coordination. Brazil has started a system to supervise the Amazon area. And Colombia is asking the governor of Brazil to give us an opportunity for this Brazilian system to supervise our area in the Amazon region. The Brazilian government has given us their first "yes" and we are very hopeful that we will reach the agreement for this telecommunication system to provide us with assistance.
With the government of Venezuela, last week we gave a very positive step with President Chavez. President Chavez allowed his minister of defence to meet with our minister of defence in order to coordinate actions to prevent Venezuela from being attacked by Colombian terrorist groups - any attempt by paramilitary groups or by guerrilla groups. There are many specific actions to avoid the trespassing and inroad of Colombian delinquency into the territories of our neighbours.
Another subject we've had a lot of emails about is concern about the impact of your strategy against leftwing guerrillas here in the country. This is an email from Tin Crane, Perth, Australia: Uribe does not seem to be doing very much to protect the trade unionists and
campesinos of whom hundreds are killed every year. The country may be safer in the cities, but for much of the population in the countryside and those with leftwing tendencies the outlook is frankly worse.
Last year, we had a reduction in internal displacement - a reduction of between 48 - 49%. This year we are new reduction in internal displacement of 42%. We still have internal displacement but it is being reduced.
Secondly, our budget has been increase eight times to provide displaced people with government assistance. Thirdly, we have implemented a very effective programme - a project to give people food security.
So far, my government has involved in this programme almost 70,000 people from the rural communities because the lack of safety to provide themselves with food is one of the reasons for internal displacement. We'd like much more results but we are doing our best and the country is beginning to show good results in this area.
But I think what Tim Crane was also getting at when he talked about trade unionists was the worry by the people with leftwing politics that in your crackdown on security on left wing guerrillas, possibly other people might affected who should not be.
I myself have heard on police radio requests for people with information about FARC guerrillas to come forward and the worry is that police informers might inform on people who are in fact innocent. There have been concerns raised by some human rights groups, what's your response to this?
With regard to trade union leaders, in the year 2001, 184 people were killed, in the year 2002, 121 people were killed - there was a reduction of 34%. In the year 2003, 52 people were killed. There was a reduction of 57%. The year until the end of October  30 people were killed - there was a reduction of 31%.
So you're saying there's still a problem but it is getting less.
Yes. I want zero assassination. This is not a question of quantity, this is a question of respect to human life, to trade union leaders. One aim of my government is to provide them full security. I have called my programme on security, democratic security, because this is security for trade union leaders, security for employers, security for investors, security for the people of the opposition, security for my own followers etc.
Let's go to our next caller, now it's James Westhorpe, who is in Leeds in the UK. James what would you like to ask President Uribe?
Mr President, from my view, many youngsters they seem to be attracted to what the rebels have to offer which may be due to the lack of social welfare, especially of that in the countryside. In my view, this in itself seems to act as a form of recruitment for them to join the war against the state. However, my question to you is, if you provided a better social basis, such as an increase in jobs and easier access for education, this would then give them something to work for rather than join organisations such as that of FARC. What is your view on this?
Just before you answer Mr President, let's take another caller, this is Juan Molina in Bremen in Germany because I think Juan you want to ask a related question.
Mr President, do you think it is important to create an integration policy so that the different cultures and ethnic groups come closer before creating a reduction in cultural and ethnic discrimination?
In Colombia we do not have ethnic discrimination. We are looking to provide the black communities, the indigenous communities with better opportunities.
But regarding the first question, of course we need to eliminate social injustice in Colombia. We need to provide people with equality of opportunity. But what is first? Peace - without peace there is not investment; without investment there are no fiscal resources for the government to invest in the welfare of the people; without peace there is no investment to create jobs.
My first step is security, confidence. The second step is jobs, social security, social opportunities to convert this beginning of peace into a permanent peace.
What has been the impact of these groups in Colombia? These terrorist groups have said, we fight because we want a Colombia with social justice. They have created a Colombia with much more poverty, with much more misery, with much more social injustice.
From the year 1980 to the 2002, our economy grew only at 2% because of violence. These terrorist groups have condemned our people to look for their way of living in the streets, in complete informality, with misery, with poverty. They have taken away the possibilities for our poorest people to find better opportunities.
But James's point was, if you gave them more social welfare - I understand that you've had huge increases in the armed forces budget in order to fight - but if you increased the budget for social welfare, then all these young people out in the countryside wouldn't join the guerrillas.
To restore order in Colombia, to restore confidence in Colombia, we have three main points - security, transparency and economic and social recovery. For social recovery, we have seven tools to create a community without exclusion.
The first tool is the revolution on with education. So far my government has created 750,000 new school places, especially for the poorest. If you look at the universities, for the poor people you will see that we have created a huge number of places in the system. This year alone, my government has created more than 3,400,000 new places for the poorest people to come to the state and for the state to subsidise them with health services.
We are making the greatest possible effort in the middle of our fiscal deficit, in the middle of our public indebtedness to provide our people with better social opportunities - if we persist we will achieve it.
Let's go to our next caller because you mentioned and education and on the line is Mercedes Jaramillo-McCurley, who is in North Carolina, USA and I think this was something you wanted to ask the President.
Good afternoon, Mr President. I have an example to follow up the previous caller. It is a real example from a peasant in El Valle. I was in Colombia last August and I spoke with a mother of five and she told me how three out of her five children had to walk 1½ hours to get to school and the school lunch programmes this year were being cut.
She was concerned about her children having to walk three hours during the day back and forth and what kind of food she was going to be able to provide.
She even said at one point, she could actually try to make that walk to give them some lunch at lunchtime.
My question is, back to the social issues. What are the real solutions to the real problems that these people are having? I do agree with the other callers that these three boys are the ones that will join the guerrilla movement. I know we have safer roads. I drove from Cali to Bogota last year myself. So I know it is safer. But in El Valle I understood that the social problems are not being resolved so therefore the problems of the country will continue to emerge and these movements will continue to proliferate.
Yes, you are right. We have still many social problems and it will take time to solve these problems. But I want to give you some examples of the initiatives of my government.
My government has a programme, its name is families in action. This programme includes 340,000 families. We pay every two months to these families in order for them to send their children to school and to provide them with nutrition. It has improved a lot the school attendance.
In Colombia we have a state institute. During my term, we have increased by half a million the number of children under five who are getting food from this institute and my aim is to double it in the coming year. In the middle of the year 2005, my government will reach 1 million new places in this institute.
The lady who asked the question is right, we have many social problems but working with good faith, creating conditions for expanding our economy, for giving our people possibilities, jobs, income - for the government to collect more taxes, to apply it transparently by eliminating corruption we will achieve more and more results in the social field.
One aim of my government is to create the kind of government I call the communitarian government, with more participation of the people. More participation of the people guarantees transparency, the elimination of corruption. This will reduce state expansion and will give us more possibilities to invest in the social field.
We have introduced reforms in 142 state institutions in order to make them save money for the government to reduce the deficit and to put more money in the social programmes.
Let's come on to a very complicated process that's going on in Colombia at the moment and that is the process that has begun to negotiate a peace with right wing paramilitaries - the United Self-Defence Forces as they call themselves, the AUC. There's a plan for them to demobilise 3,000 members of their forces within the next few weeks.
We've had this email from Efrain in Cali, Colombia and says: Why did you favour a dialogue with this right wing paramilitary group?
I have offered dialogue to every group. When I came to government, my predecessor had looked at the possibility of dialogue with the ELN through the government of Cuba. I said I am ready to continue this process under one condition, that these people accept the cessation of hostilities as a condition to initiate formal dialogue with my government.
We have said to guerrillas and to paramilitaries, the government is open to dialogue with you but you have show good faith. The condition is the cessation of hostilities - with the cessation of hostilities we will begin a dialogue. I have not imposed on them the condition of demobilisation and disarmament. Demobilisation and disarmament are the final results for these processes. I have said you have to respect the cessation of hostilities.
Some paramilitary groups accepted the cessation of hostilities therefore my government is in dialogue with them and we will demobilise as many of them as they want and they accept our conditions and we are ready to do the same with guerrillas.
During the term of my government there has been the demobilisation of 7,000 people - 60% of FARC, the other 40% is split between the paramilitaries and ELN. My government has adopted the same policy regarding paramilitaries and guerrillas because the aim of my government is one Colombia without guerrillas, one Colombia without paramilitary groups.
But what is the aim - what are you going to give these paramilitary commanders in return for demilitarising? Many of them are very powerful, some are thought to be linked deeply into the drugs trade. Some of them seem to be very worried by the fact that they're wanted for extradition in the United States on drug trafficking charges.
We've had this email from Will in the United States who says he wants to know about these negotiations and whether there is a promise of no extradition is one of those tools.
First, my government has struck at all illegal groups with all determination, regardless of whether they are paramilitaries or guerrillas. Keep this in your mind - during my term the institutional armed forces have shot dead in combat 900 members of paramilitary groups and more than 7,000 have been brought to jail. This has been a record if you compare it to the years before my administration.
Secondly, my government has signed orders for extradition - over 230 - there has not been a comparable number in the past.
Thirdly, my government is ready to defeat paramilitary and guerrillas both militarily or to give them peace negotiation opportunities. The paramilitaries have said they are ready for peace negotiations and my government has given the answer yes under the condition of good faith, under the condition of the cessation of hostilities. The cessation of hostilities is not complete yet. However, there has been a reduction of 67% of homicides by paramilitary groups and a reduction of 90% of massacres in the areas that had been affected by them.
So if there is a reduction of violence, President Uribe, is the issue of extradition to the United States negotiable?
My government has signed an order of extradition for more than 230 cases, as I have already said to you. My government has had no doubts on this.
In the case of paramilitaries, we produced a press release on April 27th. In this press release we stated that the governor of Colombia will not negotiate extradition because we had to preserve the good name of Colombia among the international community.
If those members of illicit groups wanted not to be extradited they had to show good faith - contrition, repentance. There is a question of time, they had to wait, to respect the law and to show the international community, to show my government and the foreign requesting governments their good faith.
So you are holding out a possibility that they could escape extradition?
I have repeated only the press release my government produced on April 27th. I have stuck to this point.
Let's go to our next caller because what we've been discussing of course relates to relations with the United States and your country is the third largest recipient of aid from the United States after Israel and Egypt. We have Sergio Genel is on the line from Tijuana in Mexico and you'd like to ask the President about this.
My question is, how much influence do American interests have in Colombia and how will it affect the government?
Plan Patriotas is a very practical way that the US Government has helped Colombia.
It began during the administration with my predecessor but I supported it and I have continued it. I am a believer in Plan Colombia.
Many countries express rhetoric help to Colombia - Plan Colombia - the United States help is a very practical way to help this country.
When Plan Colombia began my country had roughly 180,000 hectares of illicit drugs. We are very hopeful that we will finish this year with no more than 65,000 hectares of illicit drugs. It is still a huge amount but it has been a redhas been a reduction from 180,000 hectares to 65,000 hectares, therefore Plan Colombia has been a very important help.
I have said to the members of the US Congress, please don't leave Colombia alone. Don't leave this job halfway. We will win but we haven't won yet. We need a second phase of Plan Colombia for defeating illicit drugs in Colombia completely.
But judging by the emails we've got, your close relationship with the United States is still pretty controversial, here in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America and abroad.
Here's an e-mail from Patrick in Ireland who says: President Uribe may be a Colombian patriot and taking a tough stance against guerrillas but, like many of his predecessors, he appears to be too much of an American friend.
Here's another one this is from London from Bee Rowlatt and she says: Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has been accused of alienating his nearest neighbours in Europe by his close ties to President Bush. Isn't the same happening to you, as so many of your Latin American neighbours take a centre-left, more anti-Bush position?
This is not a question of Bush or not Bush. This is a question of plural relationships. This is a question of an overture to the international community.
I was asked many times during the US elections - you are pro-Bush or you are pro-Kerry? And my answer was this is not a personal relationship. This is not a relationship between one president and another president. This is not a relationship between one political party and another political party. This is a permanent and very strong relationship between two states.