ON SUNDAY, George W. Bush will become the first U.S. president to set foot in Bogota since Ronald Reagan visited in 1982. It's a noteworthy milestone. Colombia, the top recipient of U.S. aid in the Western Hemisphere, is an important ally. Bush has rightly backed President Alvaro Uribe in his efforts to strengthen Colombia's democracy, and Congress should follow Bush's lead by approving the free-trade agreement the two countries have negotiated and by continuing to provide support to Colombia's military.
The timing of the visit is not ideal for Uribe. One of the most successful Latin American leaders in recent years, he was sworn in to a second four-year term late last year. But his conservative government has recently been roiled by revelations of links between legislators and jailed right-wing paramilitary leaders who turned themselves in under a controversial demobilization plan crafted by Uribe. In essence, the deal allowed those who had joined terrorist groups to lay down their weapons, confess to their crimes and be eligible for more lenient jail sentences.
The plan, coupled with Uribe's initial hard-line stance against armed groups on the right and left, has reduced violence. But a Supreme Court inquiry has led to the arrest of several legislators with links to the paramilitary groups. The president's foreign minister resigned when her brother was arrested; her replacement just emerged in January from six years of captivity at the hands of Marxist rebels.