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BOGOTA, Colombia — Banned by the Constitution from serving a third term, President Alvaro Uribe steps down Saturday after eight years in office. But his political future seems far from over.
As Juan Manuel Santos prepares to take the oath of office as Colombia's new president, Uribe is floating the idea that he may run next year for mayor of Bogota, the second most important political post in the country.
To Americans, the move might seem odd since U.S. presidents lose nearly all their power and influence the moment they leave office. From Ike to Reagan to Clinton, former American commanders-in-chief have spent retirement golfing, erecting presidential libraries, collecting fees for speeches or running humanitarian organizations.
Not so in Colombia.
Here, former presidents become influential power brokers, sought-out commentators, and high-living diplomats.
Cesar Gaviria (1990-94) went on to head the Organization of American States before returning home to become leader of the Liberal Party. Andres Pastrana (1998-2002) served as Uribe’s ambassador to Washington then returned to Colombia to become a Conservative Party bigwig.
Then, there’s the strange case of Ernesto Samper (1994-98) who nearly snagged the cush posting as Colombia’s ambassador to Paris even though he left office in disgrace after he was accused of accepting $6 million in campaign contributions from the Cali drug cartel.
Uribe offered the ex-president Paris in a bald-faced attempt to flip Samper from political rival to political ally. But the move was shot down amid growing public outrage after Samper was photographed in a Colombian gossip magazine wandering through the Left Bank, baguette in hand, preparing to move into his new diplomatic digs.
So it came as no shock to Colombians that Uribe — who steps down as one of the nation’s most successful recent presidents — will likely remain in the political arena.
Running for mayor “is more about his desire to serve the people than political vanity,” said Congressman Nicolas Uribe (no relation to the president).
But another legislator, Ivan Cepeda, said Uribe’s interest in city hall stands as further proof of his “unlimited appetite for power, which he demonstrated when he sought a third term” as president.
Whether or not Uribe throws his hat in the ring, Bogotanos are lining up to support him. In a recent poll nearly 60 percent of respondents said if Uribe runs for mayor they would vote for him.