WASHINGTON—Colombian President Alvaro Uribe wrapped up a Washington trip Friday after tussling with human rights activists and getting a cool reception from Democrats to his pleas to approve a free-trade deal.
Undeterred, Uribe said he would return to Washington next month to press his case, an unprecedented personal effort by a foreign president to pass a trade agreement.
But despite multiple visits by Uribe and other top Colombian officials, Democrats gave no indications of softening their position.
The trip underscores the differences in the perception of Uribe. In Colombia, he's popular for taming political and criminal violence. But some Democrats see his government as too soft on right-wing paramilitary groups accused of some of the country's most egregious abuses.
"It was particularly useful for him to hear the level of concern that there is," said Michael Shifter, who is with the Inter-American Dialogue, a research center in Washington. "I think it's difficult for him to understand how he could be so popular and so well-liked in Colombia, and having such achievements, and yet encountering such difficult questions and concerns in Washington."
One indication of the difficulties that Uribe ran into on his latest trip to Washington was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's reaction after the two met Tuesday. Afterward, she issued a brief statement making no mention of a free-trade deal or any praise for Uribe but highlighting Democrats' concerns.
"Many of us expressed our growing concerns about the serious allegations of connections between illegal paramilitary forces and a number of high-ranking Colombian officials," the statement said.
At one event Tuesday, Uribe faced street protests against the massive displacement of Afro-Colombians by his country's civil war, the killings by paramilitary groups and especially the slayings of hundreds of union activists.
Later that day, witnesses said, Uribe unleashed a tirade against Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, at a dinner hosted by Sens. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., and Ken Salazar, D-Colo.
Vivanco disputed some indicators that the Colombian government used to point to the success of Uribe's policies, said several witnesses, who didn't want to be named because the event was off the record.
Uribe issued a long and emotional rebuttal, the witnesses said, accusing the Chilean-born activist of failing to recognize his government's achievements, such as putting more paramilitary leaders in jail than any of his predecessors had.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Need to map