The World's William Troop reports on the debate in Colombia over presidential term limits. There's a push to allow Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to run for a third term in office. Critics say that would open the door to future dictators to trample Colombian democracy.
MARCO WERMAN: The closest US ally in Latin America is in the middle of a constitutional tango right now. Supporters of President Alvaro Uribe of Columbia want him to run again. This week the country's congress approved a bill calling for a referendum on the matter. A yes vote could pave the way for Uribe's third term in office. That's prompted concerns about the state of democracy in Columbia and beyond. Here's the story from The World's William Troop.
WILLIAM TROOP: When Alvaro Uribe was first elected president in 2002 Columbia's constitution allowed for a single four-year presidential term. The law was changed to allow Uribe to run again in 2006 but the Columbian leader is still barred from running a third time. That's why his supporters pushed the reelection bill through congress. It leaves to the decision to voters at a time when president Uribe is still relatively popular for his success in the battle against Columbia's leftist FARC rebels. The country's Interior and Justice Minister Fabio Valencia Cossio welcomes the referendum.
FABIO VALENCIA COSSIO: [SPEAKING SPANISH]
TROOP: Valencia says all the bill does is let the Columbian people make the decision as to whether a Columbian citizen can be elected once and re-elected twice.
A very democratic way to settle the matter on the surface but opposition leaders in Columbia are worried about the implications. They say if Uribe is allowed to run again it raises the specter of institutional dictatorship. In other words it opens the door for a future strongman to stay in power as long as they want. Opposition politician Carlos Gaviria Diaz says what's happening in Columbia is shameful.
CARLOS GAVIRIA DIAZ: [SPEAKING SPANISH]
TRANSLATOR: I think people should acknowledge that this is like a simulation of democracy ? more and more like a pretend democracy. People need to understand that we're getting farther and farther away from the true rule of law.
TROOP: Columbia is the latest Latin American country where there's a move to extend presidential terms ? this despite a painful history of dictatorship in the region. Many countries put one-term limits on their presidents do discourage a return to that. Now leaders on both the left and the right are pushing to reverse those measures. Before the conservative Uribe in Columbia it was Venezuela's Hugo Chavez followed by several of his leftist allies. But Columbia is a case apart according to Alfredo Rangel. He directs the Security and Democracy Foundation in Bogot-.
ALFREDO RANGEL: [SPEAKING SPANISH]
TROOP: He says unlike other Latin American countries Columbia is a nation with strong respect for its democratic institutions. As such he says Columbia's democracy is not threatened by a past history of dictatorship. Rangel says there's been no erosion of democracy or freedom of the press in Columbia during Uribe's second term. And he doesn't foresee any during a third term either.
Others aren't so sure. Still Rengel echoes what many Columbian's believe is the best case for Uribe's reelection.
RANGEL: [SPEAKING SPANISH]
TROOP: He says it would guarantee continuity for the country just as Columbia is finally making some progress toward peace and stability after decades of civil war.
President Uribe's reelection is far from a done deal though. He himself has yet to declare his candidacy. Also the country's constitutional court has yet to approve the referendum bill. And it's still unclear if voters would have their say in time for Uribe to get on the ballot. About the only thing that's certain right now is that Columbia's next presidential election is scheduled for next May. For The World this is William Troop.