Uribe Says Rebel Attacks Threaten Colombia Investor Confidence

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said he may run for congress to defend his government’s legacy as an upsurge in guerrilla attacks threatens to damp investor confidence in the country.

Improvements in security that ushered in a period of strong growth are being squandered by President Juan Manuel Santos, said Uribe, adding that his former defense minister’s efforts to strike a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are misguided.

“What Colombia gained could be lost,” Uribe, who handed power to his one-time ally Santos in 2010, said in an interview in Mexico City yesterday. “If, to defend these ideas, I have to go to Congress, I can’t close that door.”

Uribe came to power in 2002 and leveraged a U.S.-backed military offensive to retake from armed groups control of Colombia’s highways and large parts of the countryside, helping attract foreign investment and promote economic growth that averaged 4.6 percent a year during his two terms. His successor Santos this month started the first peace talks with the guerrillas since 2002, even after attacks on oil pipelines more than quadrupled to 88 in the first seven months of the year.

The rise in violence “could be a clear signal against investment confidence,” said the 60-year-old Uribe, who recently published a book on his time in government called “No Lost Causes” and last month was named by billionaire Rupert Murdoch to the board of News Corp. (NWSA)

Uribe is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term, and ruled out a run for Vice President.

Foreign Investment

Attacks on oil infrastructure fell during Uribe’s presidency, as the army gained the upper hand in a half-century war with the guerrillas. Improved security for oil and mining companies helped attract a record $13.2 billion in 2011 from investors including billionaires Carlos Slim and Eike Batista.

Sitting down for peace talks with the FARC, which the U.S. and European Union consider a terrorist group, is demoralizing the armed forces on whose strength Colombians’ security depends, Uribe said. The talks, which began this month in Oslo, will resume in Havana on Nov. 15.

“Appeasement has been historically the worst way to deal with old and new communists,” said Uribe, whose father was killed by the FARC on his family’s ranch in the 1980s. “Everyone agrees with peace, but I disagree with impunity.”

Santos Reaction

Santos’s High Commissioner for Communications Juan Felipe Munoz dismissed Uribe’s criticisms the government is jeopardizing security and economic gains. Munoz, in a phone interview, pointed out that under Santos’ watch the military killed the FARC’s top two commanders, making Colombians safer.

Munoz also said that investment has risen to record levels under Santos. FDI rose 34 percent from a year ago in the second quarter to $4.1 billion. Growth has also remained strong amid a global slowdown, with gross domestic product expanding 4.9 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, outpacing much of Latin America, including the region’s two biggest economies, Brazil and Mexico.

Santos’s peace effort has helped spur a rebound in his approval ratings. The proportion of Colombians with a favorable image of the president rose to 63 percent last month, up 18 points from August, according to a poll by Datexco Co. published this month. The Sept. 24-26 survey of 1,000 people has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Uribe said that Venezuela remains a haven for “terrorists” and drug traffickers, and that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s re-election this month to a third six-year term wasn’t fair.

“I don’t have reasons to say there was fraud, but everyone has reasons to say these were unfair elections,” said Uribe. “While President Chavez every day had 57 minutes on TV, the candidate of the opposition has had 2 or 3 minutes.”

Uribe in office frequently clashed with Chavez, accusing his neighbor of standing by as Marxist guerrilla groups freely operate in his territory. Chavez ordered tanks to the countries’ border in 2008 after a bombing raid by Colombia’s air force on a rebel camp inside Ecuador.

Santos said last month that Colombia and Venezuela had been “thinking of war” before he took steps to mend relations at the start of his presidential term in 2010.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nacha Cattan in Mexico City at ncattan@bloomberg.net; Matthew Bristow in Bogota at mbristow5@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net.

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