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Return of the dictators?

Colombia's Alvaro Uribe is the latest in a string of Latin American leaders to push for more time in office.

Since the 1990s, Latin American presidents have been pushing for multiple presidential terms. Clockwise: Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela; Alvaro Uribe, president of Colombia; Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador; Manuel Zelaya, ousted president of Honduras; Alberto Fujimori, former president of Peru; Carlos Menem, former president of Argentina. (Reuters: Miraflores Palace, Jaime Saldarriaga, Jose Miguel Gomez, Juan Carlos Ulate, Esteban Medel, Zoraida Diaz)

BOGOTA, Colombia — Across Latin America, presidents are pulling strings and pressuring lawmakers to change their constitutions to allow for multiple presidential terms — a trend that began in the 1990s.

Presidential re-election is a controversial issue in Latin America because many nations were ruled by abusive military dictators who refused to leave office peacefully. In addition, the courts, the media and other institutions that serve as checks on presidential power were often weak.

As a result, when democracy took hold, most of the new constitutions in these countries banned presidential re-election. But the emergence of a string of charismatic, successful leaders in the 1990s convinced politicians and voters to amend their constitutions to allow for second, and in some cases, third terms. Colombia's Alvaro Uribe is the latest Latin American leader hoping to hang onto his job. The House of Representatives is scheduled to meet Tuesday to vote on a bill to hold a referendum that could pave the way for Uribe to stand for a third four-year term in the 2010 election.

But Uribe should be careful what he wishes for. In many cases, second and third terms haven't worked out so well.

CARLOS MENEM: President of Argentina, 1989-1999

The Good: Menem took office amid a deep economic crisis. By pegging the Argentine peso to the U.S. dollar, he helped tame hyperinflation. He opened the country to foreign investment and privatized state-run companies. The resulting economic recovery helped him push through a constitutional amendment so he could run for a second term in 1995. He won by a landslide.

The Bad: Menem’s second term was marred by corruption scandals and an economic slowdown. He tried and failed to amend the constitution to run for a third consecutive term in 1999. After sitting on the sidelines and facing numerous lawsuits, he was allowed to run for a third term in 2004. Menem won the first round of voting but pulled out of the run-off when he appeared headed for certain defeat.

ALBERTO FUJIMORI: President of Peru, 1990-2000

The Good: His economic policies helped end hyperinflation and usher in a period of rapid economic growth. He was widely credited with defeating the Shining Path guerrillas following the 1992 capture of the group’s leader Abimael Guzman — though remnants of the rebel organization continue to carry out attacks. A new constitution in 1993 allowed him to run for re-election in 1995.

The Bad: Fujimori closed the Congress in a so-called “self-coup” in 1992 and was accused of human rights abuses in the war against the guerrillas. His allies in Congress “reinterpreted” the constitution, which opened the door for Fujimori to run for a third five-year term in 2000. Though he won, the election was tainted by fraud and shortly afterward Fujimori fled to Japan and faxed his resignation from Tokyo. On April 7, 2009, he was found guilty of human rights abuses and sentenced to 25 years in a Peruvian prison.