The declassified defense Department intelligence report, dated September 1991, reads like a Who's Who of Colombia's cocaine trade. The list includes the Medellin cartel's kingpin, Pablo Escobar, and more than 100 other thugs, assassins, traffickers and shady lawyers in his alleged employ. Then there's entry 82: "Alvaro Uribe Velez--a Colombian politician and senator dedicated to collaboration with the Medellin cartel at high government levels. Uribe was linked to a business involved in narcotics activities in the U.S.... Uribe has worked for the Medellin cartel and is a close personal friend of Pablo Escobar Gaviria." Escobar died in a 1993 police raid. Two years ago this week, Uribe became president of Colombia.
Washington loves him. In a two-page written statement, the Colombian president's office denied that Uribe had links of any kind to a U.S. business, as described in the 1991 report. (The list was obtained by the National Security Archive, an independent U.S. research group.) But the statement did not address the allegations that Uribe had worked for the Medellin cartel and was Escobar's close friend. It may be that Uribe thinks his recent actions speak louder than denials: in the last two years, Colombia has extradited 140 accused traffickers to the United States--a figure unmatched by any previous president. "This is probably one of the most pro-American presidents in Latin America's entire history," says Adam Isacson, at the Center for International Policy in Washington.
Still, questions persist. Uribe has been talking peace with outlawed right-wing paramilitaries. These groups began in self-defense against an out-of-control Marxist guerrilla movement, yet they supported themselves via the drug trade. After winning office on a pledge to stop leftist guerrillas, Uribe is now offering leniency to paramilitaries who renounce trafficking and disarm. "Some of these people don't even have anti-guerrilla credentials," says Isacson. "They're just drug traffickers who've bought their way into the paramilitary movement as a way to claim political status, legitimize their fortunes and walk free." Most Colombians seem unconcerned. With the president's approval ratings hovering above 70 percent, he's likely to get a constitutional amendment later this year to let him run again in 2006--and win.