Former President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe Velez’s presence on campus continues to incite opposition in the form of student protests, combined with vocal dissent from some members of the Jesuit community.
Demonstrations against Uribe’s appointment as a Distinguished Scholar in the Practice of Global Leadership are expected early next month, following protests upon Uribe’s arrival in early September.
Nico Udu-gama, an organizer for the School of Americas Watch and a key player in the public dissent at Georgetown, said plans are in the works to hold a speak-out in Red Square on the afternoon of Nov. 3.
Charity Ryerson, a student at the Law Center, heads the coalition of human rights organizations that is a part of the Law Center’s broader Georgetown Human Rights Action group, which is helping organize the Red Square event.
According to Ryerson, stations will be set up around Red Square prior to the arrival of speakers on Nov. 3, each detailing many of Uribe’s policies cited by opposition groups. The demonstration is slated to occur while the former president delivers a lecture in the Intercultural Center nearby.
“When we win this campaign and Uribe is forced to leave Georgetown, a message will be sent that our community does not condone the model of politics Uribe represents,” Ryerson added.
The group of protesters accuses the former president of human rights violations and violence, including his involvement in the “false positives scandal,” which alleged that members of the Colombian military recruited citizens to engage in killings, according to a 2008 report in The New York Times.
Colombian Jesuit Javier Giraldo Moreno expressed his concerns in a recent letter to another Jesuit priest in the United States, anti-war activist Fr. John Dear, S.J. The letter was later reproduced and sent to University President John J. DeGioia with the signatures of over 150 scholars.
Dear was once a part of the Georgetown community when, with Daniel Porterfield, senior vice president for strategic development, he helped to found the D.C. Schools Project in 1984.
“I am totally appalled that Georgetown University has welcomed this mass murderer. I think he should still be disinvited today. [His presence on campus] makes a mockery of any Jesuit ideals or Christian values. By having him here, Georgetown is saying that we support the teaching of mass murder instead of peace and the teachings of Jesus,” Dear told THE HOYA.
Dear said he contacted the Office of the President, as well Fr. John Langan, S.J., the rector of the Jesuit community and Dean Carol Lancaster of the School of Foreign Service to express his concerns over the matter in the beginning of September.
“Most of them did not return my calls. Those, however, whom I spoke with expressed ignorance to the war crimes and history of Uribe,” he said.
While many have welcomed the opportunity to hear from a global leader and to engage in dialogue with the former president, Dear said he believes the discussion should not be welcomed.
“That is an old argument that [former University President] Fr. Tim Healy used to say to me when I lived at Georgetown and [helped to found] the D.C. Schools Project. We need all viewpoints,” he said, recalling his time at the university. “Would we welcome Hitler? That would be the epitome. In my mind, let other schools do that. But, for a Jesuit university, we are supposed to teach the gospel.”
In his interview with THE HOYA, Dear expressed particular concern for students in the SFS community. He said he thinks they should not be learning the nuances of international affairs and war resolution from “murderers,” but rather from peacemakers the likes of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr.
“As a Jesuit, I am embarrassed and shocked,” he ended. “Georgetown needs to repent in its complicity with bringing Uribe here.”
The university, however, continues to defend its decision to hire Uribe.
“Georgetown is not endorsing the political views or government policies enacted by an individual, but realizing the value in allowing a world leader’s experience to be part of campus dialogue,” said university spokeswoman Julie Bataille in an email.
“Students are given the unique opportunity to inquire themselves about the decisions made during President Uribe’s time in public office and gain a better understanding of current international affairs.”
She also noted that Uribe’s role in the faculty is unique: He is neither tenure-track nor a full-time member of the faculty and was not hired through a formal search process.
“He is a distinguished scholar in the practice of global leadership and as such, is on campus four times per year (twice a semester) to participate in seminars and lectures,” she said.
At a rally in Red Square in early September, protesters held signs and later conducted sit-ins during some of the former president’s lectures on campus.
Most recently, according to Newsweek, on Sept. 27 more than 150 scholars including 10 Georgetown professors called on DeGioia to dismiss Uribe by signing the reproduced letter originally sent to Dear.
Contained in the letter were statements denouncing Uribe for supporting and defending paramilitary groups, corruption during his administration and the murder of civilians, among other accusations.
Members of the Georgetown community who signed the letter include: Osama Abi-Mershed, assistant professor of history; Marc Chernick, visiting associate professor of government; Jean-Max Guieu, professor of French; Maurice Jackson, associate professor of history and African-American Studies; Rev. Ray Kemp, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center; Mark Lance, professor of philosophy; Rev. Joseph Palacios, assistant professor, Center for Latin American Studies; Joanne Rappaport, professor of anthropology and Spanish, and numerous alumni.
Chernick told Newsweek that he is unhappy to count Uribe among his colleagues. “We’re quite dismayed that a man that has this level of allegations against him has been invited to teach and be affiliated with Georgetown,” Chernick said.
On the ground, opponents to Uribe’s posting have said any pushes back against their protest have strengthened their passion for the issue.
While attending one of Uribe’s visits to a comparative politics class in September, Udu-gama was removed from the class by campus police for shouting insults and subsequently arrested by Metro police. Despite spending the night in jail, Udu-gama said he feels his arrest was only empowering.
“It’s not a setback at all. On the contrary, it makes us [activists] more determined that ever to continue speaking out against this appointment,” Udu-Gama said.
Ryerson has held various positions in groups relating to Colombian human rights throughout undergraduate and law school, and said that she committed to this position because she has “many friends who have been victimized in various ways by the Uribe administration and the military under his leadership.”
Following the planned protest on Nov. 3, notable Colombian journalist Hollman Morris is expected to make an appearance and speak with those protesting at Georgetown, according to Udu-Gama. Morris is known to be an outspoken critic of Colombian affairs.
According to The Washington Post, Uribe attached Morris to the largest rebel group in Colombia, known as the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Columbia (FARC).
Previously, Morris was also denied a U.S. travel visa due to the “terrorist activities” portion of the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act of 2001. In a speech last year, Uribe was said to have labeled him an “accomplice to terrorism.”
Udu-gama said that it is a possibility that Morris may also join members of the speak-in during the afternoon in Red Square.