Colombia in Economic Crisis: Interview with Forrest Hylton

Zaa Nkweta: With Colombia in the midst of economic crisis, highlighted by the fall of several pyramid schemes, Colombia President Álvaro Uribe has vowed to stamp out corruption, arresting 52 employees and declaring the state of emergency.  I spoke to Forrest Hylton about the actions that the Colombian government has undertaken.

Forrest Hylton: Uribe is oftenvery quick to step out against people whose activities he tolerated for some time when those activities become scandalous.  Then he tends to pose, you know, as Prosecutor Number One.  So, now, all of a sudden he’s after the pyramid schemes, but these pyramid schemes arose on his watch, and there was nobody minding the store for quite some time on this issue, so it’s very hard for him to now pose as regulator.  That’s what he’s doing in order to try to push this free trade deal.  He spoke to Obama on the telephone about it, the New York Times ran an incredibly fawning editorial piece about why the United States should sign a free trade deal with Colombia, but it’s clear that until Uribe gets his house in order and begins to deal with popular protest and unrest as well as consistent human rights violations on the part of the Colombian Armed Forces, he’s not likely to get too far in today’s Washington, which is in a moment of transition.

Nkweta: Where does he stand domestically?  From what I understand, the coalition government of which his party is a part, its partners seem to be moving away from him.   He also lost his bid to serve another term, to put in another election bid.  Where does he stand politically and where do you see this going in the future?

Hylton: Only six months ago it seemed quite likely that Uribe would be running for a third term.  Now it seems quite unlikely.   The Conservative Party has departed from his coalition.  They were able to destroy a project for the victims of human rights crimes in Colombia, particularly paramilitary crimes, before the coalition began to splinter.  So Uribe does have one recent legislative victory in his hands in terms of stamping out the fire that the victims were trying to lay under his feet, and, at the same time, it’s clear to everybody that the center is really now no longer holding, and Uribe is not in control to the extent that he has been since he came to power in 2002.  So the ground has really shifted under Uribe’s feet.  He knows that with the new administration and UNASUR and so forth he’s vulnerable.  So, he’s really trying to cover himself now and not get caught out exposed, in terms of everything that’s happening in North America as well as South America.  I really think he’s sort of McCain in slow motion.  McCain crashed and burned really fast.  I think Uribe is going through a slow motion process of the same thing.  What are we looking at six months from now?  I’d say that Colombia for the first time in years is now up for grabs, and it’s anybody’s guess what’s to come because there are so many forces at play, and Uribe is now no longer able to even create an illusion that he’s in control.

Forrest Hylton is the author of Evil Hour in Colombia (Verso, 2006) and, with Sinclair Thomson, co-author of Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics (Verso, 2007).  He is a regular contributor to New Left Review and NACLA Report on the Americas.  This interview was broadcast by The Real News on 26 November 2008.  The text above is a partial transcript of the interview.