In a region where populist demagogues are on the offensive, Mr. Uribe stands out as a defender of liberal democracy, not to mention a staunch ally of the United States. So it was remarkable to see the treatment that the Colombian president received in Washington. After a meeting with the Democratic congressional leadership, Mr. Uribe was publicly scolded by House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose statement made no mention of the "friendship" she recently offered Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Human Rights Watch, which has joined the Democratic campaign against Mr. Uribe, claimed that "today Colombia presents the worst human rights and humanitarian crisis in the Western hemisphere" -- never mind Venezuela or Cuba or Haiti. Former vice president Al Gore, who has advocated direct U.S. negotiations with the regimes of Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, recently canceled a meeting with Mr. Uribe because, Mr. Gore said, he found the Colombian's record "deeply troubling."
What could explain this backlash? Democrats claim to be concerned -- far more so than Colombians, apparently -- with "revelations" that the influence of right-wing paramilitary groups extended deep into the military and Congress. In fact this has been well-known for years; what's new is that investigations by Colombia's Supreme Court and attorney general have resulted in the jailing and prosecution of politicians and security officials. Many of those implicated come from Mr. Uribe's Conservative Party, and his former intelligence chief is under investigation. But the president himself has not been charged with wrongdoing. On the contrary: His initiative to demobilize 30,000 right-wing paramilitary fighters last year paved the way for the current investigations, which he and his government have supported and funded.
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Perhaps Mr. Uribe is being punished by Democrats, too, because he has remained an ally of George W. Bush even as his neighbor, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, portrays the U.S. president as "the devil." Whatever the reasons, the Democratic campaign is badly misguided. If the Democrats succeed in wounding Mr. Uribe or thwarting his attempt to consolidate a democracy that builds its economy through free trade, the United States may have to live without any Latin American allies.