Colombia Gets Tough

By throwing unprecedented support to a hard-line candidate for president, Colombians left no doubt they're ready for radical change. Above all, they no longer want to live with the constant threat of politically motivated violence.

That understandable desire swept to victory Alvaro Uribe Vélez, who promises a shift from his predecessor's efforts at compromise and peacemaking with Colombia's tenacious rebels, who control some 40 percent of national territory.

Indeed, doubling the size of the Army and police forces – Mr. Uribe's central proposal – makes considerable sense. The rebel forces, estimated at about 18,000, have often proven more than a match for the military.

The question is how quickly the new president, who takes office in August, can put plans into action. Latin American voters are not known for their patience with new leaders and their promises (see story, page 1).

Uribe hopes for, and should get, increased aid from Washington. The Bush administration heralded his victory, and is pushing Congress to allow broader US military assistance – not just against the narcotics trade but against the rebels, too, who are deeply entwined with the drug traffickers.

Both the rebel forces and Colombia's right-wing paramilitaries are classified as terrorist organizations by the State Department. Uribe will have to show he's a foe of all these violent groups. His tough stance must be blended with an equally firm respect for human rights.

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