Thursday, October 04, 2007

Colombia's Uribe Tied to Escobar, Attacks Journalist

It has not been a good week for the US's best bud in Latin America - Colombia's President Uribe. First a book comes out from Pablo Escobar's ex-lover alleging Uribe assisted Pablo Escobar's drug activities as head of the aviation administration. Then press freedom groups CPG and RSF condemned Uribe for his reckless comments against a US-based journalist whom be blamed for the book (a journalist who has required official bodyguards for 3 months due to a death threat). And now today Uribe's first cousin was forced to resign his seat in the Senate in order to avoid investigation by the Supreme Court. As an expert was quited in Rueters, "It is looking more and more like President Uribe and allies such as cousin Mario won office in 2002 with paramilitary support." But at least he met our Defense Secretary Robert Gates (above). The NY Times reports:

BOGOTÁ: President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia has lashed out at allegations in a new book that he had close ties to the late cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. He said he never aided Escobar's drug dealings or benefited from his political patronage.

Uribe's comments Monday were in response to the book "Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar," by Virginia Vallejo, Escobar's former mistress. Vallejo repeats claims that Uribe, as head of the civil aviation authority in the early 1980s, helped Escobar's cartel secure licenses for landing strips used to transport cocaine.

"I had no political relations with Escobar, I had no business dealings with Escobar and I was not a friend of Virginia Vallejo," Uribe said in comments broadcast on Caracol Radio. Vallejo, who is believed to be living outside Colombia, could not be reached for comment.

Uribe, the Bush administration's closest ally in South America, has been dogged by claims of his links to Escobar since his political star began to rise in the 1990s, allegations that became pronounced during his presidential campaign in 2002. Vallejo's book, published here last month, had not received much publicity in Colombia until Uribe's emotional reaction to it this week.

The president also denounced a journalist, Gonzalo Guillén, a correspondent in Bogotá for El Nuevo Herald of Miami, claiming he had helped Vallejo write the book. The claim drew a sharp denial from Guillén, who said he would sue Uribe for slander.

Vallejo, a former actress and television personality, also refers to Uribe's father as one of Colombia's "first drug traffickers" in her book. The president says his father was killed in 1983 by Marxist rebels.

A declassified U.S. intelligence report from 1991 described Uribe as a "close personal friend" of Escobar's. The report, by the Defense Intelligence Agency, also listed Uribe among Colombia's important drug traffickers and said he was linked to an unidentified business involved in narcotics in the United States.

Uribe's office denounced the intelligence report when it was first publicized in 2004 as fitting within a trend of political attacks against him, but it did not specifically address the assertion that Uribe was linked to Escobar. U.S. officials have also disavowed the report's findings. But Uribe's comments Tuesday showed more explicit efforts to distance himself from any association with Escobar, who was killed by the police in Medellín in 1993.



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