Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Deepening Colombia scandal puts Uribe on defensive

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian President Alvaro Uribe enjoys high popularity ratings, but a widening scandal over lawmaker ties to paramilitaries has the Washington ally on the defensive as he seeks to salvage a U.S. free trade deal.

Prosecutors on Tuesday arrested Mario Uribe, the president's cousin and political confidant, the latest capture in the scandal which has investigators probing more than 60 lawmakers for suspected links to paramilitary death squads.

His arrest draws the scandal closer to the presidency, fuels doubts over the parliament's credibility and has sparked a debate about reforms in a country where armed gangs and drug lords have long sought to influence politics.

The growing scandal could also quash hopes among his supporters that Uribe, first elected in 2002, will attempt to change the constitution again to allow him to run for a second re-election when his current term ends in two years.

While experts believe Uribe should weather the storm, his cousin's arrest could not have come at a worse time as he seeks a trade deal with U.S. Democrats skeptical over violence against Colombian union leaders and lingering paramilitary influence.

No comments: