WASHINGTON – Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe testified before a House subcommittee last week on the challenges to democracy in Latin America, warning that some governments in the region are gradually dismantling democracy in their countries.
In his testimony to the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, the leader railed against countries in the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA), referred to Cuba as a “failure,” and criticized the current peace talks between Colombia’s government and Marxist FARC rebels.
Uribe regarded Cuba’s recent efforts to open its economy as a façade. He said Cuba has been largely a failure since the collapse of the Soviet Union and has only been able to survive because of subsidies received from Venezuela and Brazil.
“In my opinion, the economic openness of Cuba is only an excuse – it’s only for appearance,” Uribe said. “There is no political openness and economic openness won’t be enough to satisfy the basic needs of the people of Cuba.”
He said ALBA countries – led by Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Cuba and Bolivia – are on “a regressive path against democracy” and lack investor confidence because of the numerous cases of private property expropriation to fund social programs.
Above all, Uribe said, the biggest threat to democracy in the region comes from leaders who, once elected, set about undermining it from within.
“Whereas military dictators, brutal Marxist guerrillas, and one-party systems affected much of Latin America’s democratic progress throughout the 20th century, the current slow pace of democratic progress in some Latin American countries is due to the rise of radical populist governments,” Uribe said in his prepared remarks. “Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and, of course, Cuba, dominate their respective political landscapes through abusive speech and media restrictions, as well as laws that limit political opposition and give sweeping executive power.”
Uribe also said that Venezuela continues to be a refuge for “terrorists all over the world” and the government openly promotes anti-Semitic speech.
Roger Noriega, a former U.S. ambassador and assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told a House panel recently that Iran has illegally laundered billions of dollars through the Venezuelan financial sector. Last year, the House Committee on Homeland Security submitted a report to the U.S. Congress linking Hezbollah to drug cartels in Latin America. The report found that Hezbollah and Iranian agents are working with drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia.
After downplaying the Iranian threat in the region, the State Department announced in August it had decided to reexamine its own assessment of Iran’s growing infrastructure to support terrorist activities in Latin America. The State Department issued its own report on Iran activity in the Western Hemisphere in May, which was panned as lacking “depth and seriousness” by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Uribe had some harsh words for the Organization of American States (OAS), which stayed mum during the coup in Venezuela against the congress two years ago, but took tougher stances against the coups in Honduras and Paraguay.
“We should not ask for replacing the OAS; the region needs democratic governments in joint action to make all the region comply with the democratic charter,” Uribe said.