Associated Press
Feb. 07, 2004

Report: U.S. OKs Colombia Vote Amendment

  Associated Press

  BOGOTA, Colombia - Washington approves of an initiative to amend Colombia's constitution so the country's hardline president can run for a second term, the U.S. ambassador in Bogota was quoted as saying in a published report Saturday.

  President Alvaro Uribe's crackdown on leftist rebels has proved highly popular in a nation stricken by four decades of warfare, and recent polls have put his approval ratings at nearly 80 percent.

  Last October, Colombia's Senate rejected a bill that would have allowed Uribe to run for a second, four-year consecutive term in 2006, criticizing it as tailor-made for Uribe.

  Now, Uribe loyalists are launching a bid to collect the 1.2 million signatures, or 5 percent of the electorate, needed to force through another bill to Congress.

  At a Friday meeting with businessmen in Cali, U.S. Ambassador William Wood expressed support for the measure, according to El Tiempo, Colombia's biggest newspaper.

  "When the country has a firm and popular president like Uribe, this group has always used the tactic of waiting for the next president," El Tiempo quoted Wood as saying. "This is an element that the Colombian people, who will decide on re-elections, need to consider."

  He added that "the U.S. Constitution permits presidential re-elections. That's why we don't see this proposal as antidemocratic."

  Currently, elected Colombian officials are not allowed to run again. The proposed amendment would allow the president to serve two consecutive terms but no more.

  Uribe has ordered the military to aggressively attack the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, in the jungles and mountains of this Andean country. Caught on the defensive, the rebel army has been lying low for the past few months.

  Some took offense to Wood's comments, saying he was encroaching on domestic affairs.

  Sen. Carlos Gaviria, a former magistrate at the Constitutional Court, branded the remarks "absolutely inappropriate."

  Colombia's war, which this year will mark its 40th year, pits the FARC and a smaller leftist rebel group against government forces and right-wing paramilitary factions. An estimated 3,500 people die in the fighting every year.