Colombia to have referendum on abolishing presidential term limits

Venezuela amended its constitution this year to abolish the two-term limit on presidents, provoking widespread criticism that Hugo Chavez was trying to make himself a Castro-like president-for-life.

When President Zelaya of Honduras tried to hold a nonbinding referendum to hold a national assembly just to consider abolishing term limits (among other constitutional changes), he was booted out of the country. (Even though, given his low personal popularity at the time, and the scheduling factors involved, there was practically no chance such a change could perpetuate him in office, or that he would even be a candidate for the next term.) The constitutional crisis remains unresolved. The U.S. has now definitely come down on Zelaya’s side, but American conservatives are screaming that we’re backing the wrong horse, Zelaya being an ally of Chavez and all.

Now, in Colombia (a key U.S. ally in the region, and, together with Mexico (and Honduras, for the moment), almost the only country in Latin America that does not now have a left-wing or center-left government), Congress just approved a referendum to abolish presidential term limits. If it passes, incumbent President Alvaro Uribe would be able to run for a third term in the May 2010 elections.

So – is it OK if a RW does it? One could make a case, I suppose, that Colombia is a special case WRT need for stability and continuous leadership, as it has been in a continuous state of civil war for years and the FARC still controls parts of the country. But why must such leadership be vested in one man?

I’m in favor of term limits for all elected branches of a government, but if the people of a country get to choose their leader then it sounds democratic to me.

In this case the answer to “But why must such leadership be vested in one man?”, I was listening to this story on the radio yesterday and it seems like the people are happy with how President Uribe is handling the FARC rebels and want him to remain in power to keep fighting them. That’s probably not the only reason, but it seemed to be a big one.

Now what I’m worried about is Hugo Chávez’. He tried and failed to get more terms but I don’t see him giving up power, so he’ll either try again, and rig the ballots so he wins, or maybe pull a Putin and officially take a lower level position, while really running things behind the scenes. In either case nobody should stay in power like that.

Uh, he already did, he won the next time the question was in the ballot:

The problem I have with Uribe is what I saw in his latest TV appearances when the last confrontations with Venezuela and Ecuador took place.

I remember seeing three generals standing behind Uribe in such a way that one got the impression that only the strings were missing from the picture. He is turning in what it was common in Latin America in the 90s: A democratically elected puppet of the military.

:eek: I totally missed that news story.

Do you have any examples that lead you to that opinion? And if it turns out that the military is the one calling the shots, who’s to say that a different president wouldn’t also be under their control?

Of course, it is because of their power. It does not matter much who is the president, but as soon as a president appears that does not ask many questions, the military will support him and their reelection.

As for the examples, to me they are mostly a pattern that I did notice that appears in Latin American nations on the edge of or involved in a revolution:

First Jews leave as the overwhelming Catholic guerrilla and military forces begin to attack the Jews because of religious Prejudice.

Then teachers, sindical leaders and priests that are in favor of the poor are targeted by paramilitary forces.

Then media that is against the current rulers has their reporters harassed, killed or shut down.

There are doubts on who is responsible for most of the killings and threats to the press. But when the authorities refuse to investigate then I go :dubious:
Now, why I’m not constantly complaining about Colombia? Because drugs are corrupting everything, even the revel forces. However that does not mean that the current rulers in Colombia should be given a pass. This fiasco is to me one big reason why developed nations like the US should end this stupid war on drugs.

Wow, I’m surprised those things aren’t getting more media attention. I guess though if the referendum is constitutional and the people are for it, there isn’t much that can be done.

If. Constitutional law is always fuzzy in the U.S., after more than two centuries of interpretive jurisprudence. As for Colombia – from the story linked in the OP:

The main problem with letting people stay in one position for a long time is corruption.

No, it’s consolidation-of-position. (First-termers can still be corrupt.)

The delusional belief that one man can rule a whole country is probably the most ancient and pernicious political belief system of all.

I exclude those countries, (mostly European) who, quite wisely only have harmless figurehead Presidents (Which raises another interesting question: why have them at all?).

A system of one man rule has an infantilising effect on the people and the bought (or intimidated) media. Once the suborned or intimidated media manages to mislead the people into believing that they need a ‘papa’, no matter how economically illiterate (which, in the Latin American context would be close to 100%) to lead them by the hand to a future of prosperity and bliss, then the stage is set for yet another ‘El Presidente for Life’. This is usually helped with fraudulent elections and a controlled (owned or intimidated) information media when necessary.

Exhibit A: The Caudillo who rules Cuba for life;
Exhibit B: The Caudillo who rules Venezuela for life.

Unfortunately, none of the countries of Central and South America seem capable of breaking out of the ‘El Presidente’ one man rule pattern, so why should it matter if they can get their people to agree, by fair means or foul, via genuine or fake referendua, to implement unlimited/life terms for their Caudillos. Maybe that’s the only system they can be happy with.

By “Congress just approved a referendum”, you certainly mean “Congress rejected a referendum”? And when the article said the measure has yet to go through Constitutional scrutiny, it surely means that it already has gone to a constitutional court and failed? Because if these were the case then you might have a valid hypocrisy charge.

I think you’re not comparing analogous situations. As far as I can tell there is nothing in Colombian law that prohibits such a referendum being conducted. As opposed to Honduras, where both the referendum itself, and the manner in which it was attempted were both demonstrably against Honduran law.

I will say that getting into a situation where one man, or one party, or one family can rule a country in perpetuity is a bad idea. As someone else already said, Exhibit 1. the Castros and Cuba.

thanks. very helpful post.

I just want to point out two things here that might have been overlooked.

First, I haven’t heard or seen Uribe using Jews as a scapegoat. Maybe he has, but I’m not aware of it. I am aware that Hugo Chavez as repeatedly blamed Jews, both within and without, for local, national and internation troubles, for example.

Second, the union leaders being killed is high in Columbia and has always been very high. However, between 1991-2000, no one was convicted of a union leader’s murder. The first seven years while Uribe was in office there were 80 convictions of murders of union leaders. Also, I believe the rate of union leaders being murdered have dropped since he’s been in office.

To serve the functions of head of state. The job of President is more than making policy - it’s also representing the country. As Queen Elizabeth II can tell you, being the head of state can be a full time job even if you don’t make policy decisions.

It is an utterly pointless role for someone without real power to be put forward as allegedly ‘representing’ a country.

The role that the British QE II plays is utterly pointless.

The role that a figurehead ‘President’ plays, as is common in many elective juntas in Europe, is utterly pointless and a waste of money. It should be abolished.

The role that a genuinely powerful El Presidente plays in most Latin American countries and the USA, is extremely dangerous. That form of government should be abolished ASAP.

Figureheads are for children. El Presidentes are for slaves.

The Queen isn’t completely powerless, in fact she has powers such as the ability to resolve electoral deadlocks (aka hung parliments) and to disolve parliments to trigger elections. Although these powers are used rarely and on the advice of ministers, they are still important powers to hold.

All that aside, there’s still a need for a figurehead to represent the state and to perform ceremonial and diplomatic duties; afterall humans are creatures of pomp and circumstance. The futher removed this type of role is from petty partisan politics, the better.

Right, but isn’t “on the advice of ministers” a euphemism for “when the ministers tell her to”?

Sometimes it’s a good thing to have a ceremonial, non politically derived head of state to calm national nerves in times of crises. See Monarchies in World War Two and the effect they have on solidifying national identity and resistance.

Another difference, of course, is that Zelaya was never in a position to use the (nonbinding, multi-subject) referendum to perpetuate himself in office, while Uribe is.

But the danger of long-term Bonapartist/presidentialist rule is the same in both countries, is it not?