BOGOTA, Colombia – Former Vice President Al Gore withdrew from an environmental conference in Miami Friday and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said Gore had pulled out to avoid appearing with Uribe, who is battling new accusations that he aided far-right death squads.
Phone messages left with press representatives for Gore were not immediately returned.
But Uribe, the Bush administration's closest South American ally, said at a press conference in Bogota that Gore's decision was a sign of the damage being done to Colombia by the constant accusations against the president. Uribe said he still planned to attend the New America Alliance Green Forum.
Uribe called the press conference to refute an opposition lawmaker's allegations that while Uribe was governor in a northern state in the mid-1990s he let paramilitaries use his property for meetings and killings.
Considered terrorist groups by the U.S. government, the paramilitaries are responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia's long-running civil conflict. Many of the group's commanders are wanted in the U.S. on charges of exporting hundreds of tons of cocaine.
Gore's office informed conference organizers that he "would not attend the event because he could not share the stage with the president of Colombia after the political debates in Colombia against the Uribe Velez family and against the president," Uribe said in the hastily called news conference at the presidential palace.
Ditching the normal fare of soap operas and reality shows, all Colombia's major networks carried the nearly two-hour news conference live.
Editor Isaac Lee of the magazine Poder, which is sponsoring the Miami meeting, confirmed to The Associated Press that Gore's decision not to attend was related to the latest accusations against Uribe.
The U.S. Senate froze $55 million worth of U.S. military aid to Colombia earlier this week on allegations that the head of Colombia's armed forces — who has also worked closely with the U.S. in its multibillion anti-narcotics strategy, Plan Colombia — collaborated with the death squads.
Eight legislators are already in jail on charges of helping the paramilitaries launch a nationwide offensive that killed thousands.
Uribe was re-elected in a landslide last year on promises of continuing a hard line against a five-decade leftist insurgency.