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Archive for Friday, March 9, 2007

Colombian president pleads for aid

March 9, 2007

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— Facing skeptics in the new Democratic-led U.S. Congress, President Alvaro Uribe pleaded with the American public on Thursday to continue a $700 million annual aid package that he credits for making his violence-tortured nation more peaceful and less corrupt.

"I ask the world, I ask the United States, to support us. We haven't yet won but we are winning. And we will persist," Uribe said in an interview with The Associated Press three days before his friend and close ally President Bush arrives for a six-hour visit.

Uribe is currently besieged by a political scandal in which eight close allies in Congress and his hand-picked former domestic intelligence chief have been jailed for allegedly helping right-wing militias in a reign of terror.

The scandal also prompted Uribe's foreign minister to resign last month when her brother - a senator - and her father - a regional powerbroker - were implicated for alleged participation in the kidnapping of a political rival.

Asked if he did not know or was not able to measure the extent of paramilitary penetration in the Colombian state, Uribe responded emotionally, his voice rising.

"It's what we encountered. We are dismantling what we encountered. This was a country defeated by paramilitarism and (leftist) rebels," Uribe said.

Bush arrives Sunday, making the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to Bogota since Ronald Reagan in 1982.

The visit comes as many of the Democrats who won control of the U.S. Congress in November elections are raising doubts about the effectiveness of nearly $4 billion in mostly military aid to Colombia since Uribe took office in 2002.

The Bush administration wants the Colombia aid package, which helped Uribe boost his security forces by a third, to continue in its present form.

But many Democrats express concern about Colombia's human rights record and want greater emphasis on social programs - the country has more than 3 million internally displaced - and on bolstering an overtaxed justice system.

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