MIAMI—Former Vice President Al Gore, in a stunning slap at Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, pulled out of an environmental forum attended by the South American leader Friday, citing allegations that the Colombian's allies colluded with far-right death squads.
The news of Gore's cancellation quickly eclipsed the pressing environmental issues discussed at the high-powered Poder Green Forum held in Miami. Gore, who had led an international campaign against global warming and was featured in the Academy-Award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," was to have been the biggest star among the host of scientific and political luminaries.
Gore's absence prompted Uribe, who faces a deepening scandal over links between his supporters and right-wing paramilitaries, to defend his record repeatedly, first at a news conference and then when he addressed the Green Forum.
"I deplore the absence of Vice President Al Gore in this conference," Uribe said. "I hope that he pays attention to Colombia and closely examines the case."
Earlier this week, the Senate froze $55.2 million in military aid to the South American country, Washington's closest ally in the region, because of allegations that the head of Colombia's armed forces collaborated with the death squads.
In explaining the former vice president's cancellation, Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider cited the "deeply troubling" allegations about links between allies of the Uribe government and the paramilitaries, blamed for massacres and slayings in the past.
In his defense, Uribe said that the number of journalists and trade unionists slain in Colombia had dropped dramatically in the last year. In the past, the South American country had one of the worst records of slayings of labor leaders in the world.
Uribe insisted he was under attack because he had prevented left-wing guerrillas from taking over the country.
"It is a very difficult task," Uribe told reporters. "Maybe we have committed mistakes, but we have never committed crimes."
The conference was organized by Poder magazine, which is one of the magazines published by Mexico's Grupo Televisa, and New America Alliance, a Hispanic business group.
Gore's appearance was to have capped the daylong conference. But on Thursday, Gore informed organizers that he was pulling out unless they "chose between the presence of Vice President Al Gore and President Uribe," said Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manual Santos.
When organizers balked at disinviting Uribe, Gore canceled, Santos said.
"They took a fair and just decision," said the defense minister, adding that
Colombia had become a victim of partisan politics in the United States.
"This is something between Vice President Gore and President Uribe," said Poder Editor Isaac Lee. "We are very sorry (Gore) is not here. Al Gore is not replaceable."
Kreider, the Gore spokeswoman, said that Uribe wasn't part of the event when Gore agreed to speak.
Conference organizers insisted that the conference line-up had been known for months and that the agenda was sent out approximately a month ago.
Conference participants soldiered on amid the controversy and a spottier attendance than many had hoped.
Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, who made an impassioned plea for attention to the oceans and ocean life, shrugged off the Gore/Uribe standoff.
"The biggest scandal has nothing to do with what is happening in Colombia," Earle said. "The biggest scandal is the complacency of people who fail to take seriously environmental issues."
(Miami Herald Staff Writer Matthew Haggman contributed to this report.)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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