There is plenty of pessimism about democracy these days, and autocrats seem to be on the march on every continent. So we should take note when democracy triumphs over autocratic temptations.
That's what happened in Colombia recently. President Álvaro Uribe had hinted for some time that he might run for a third consecutive term, despite the constitution's two-term limit. Last summer Colombia's House and Senate, controlled by allies of Uribe, passed a bill to change the constitution. The next and final step was a popular referendum in May to endorse Uribe's reelection. If that sounds familiar, it should. It was by popular referendum that Venezuela's Hugo Chávez installed himself as a virtual president-for-life. But late last month Colombia's constitutional court rejected the bill. The referendum is dead, and Colombia's democracy lives.
If Uribe steps down as planned, he will join the ranks of democratic statesmen who used conservative principles and hard power to make government work effectively for its citizens and thereby save his polity in a moment of peril. Statesmen like Reagan, Thatcher, and Giuliani.
It will also be a triumph of American policy, since a large part of Uribe's success is due to the aid provided under the controversial Plan Colombia adopted by President Clinton in 1998. What better way to show America's continued support for this fledgling democracy than by approving the Columbia FTA?