With former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Vélez’s arrival on campus Wednesday came a series of protests denouncing his appointment as a School of Foreign Service Distinguished Scholar in the Practice of Global Leadership.
On Wednesday afternoon, dozens of activists congregated in Red Square to protest alleged human rights abuses during Uribe’s two terms as president. Demonstrators held signs bearing the images of those claimed to be displaced as a result of the Uribe regime, as well as a large banner reading “Adios Uribe!”
At a gathering at 36th and N Streets by the Mortara Center for International Studies late Thursday afternoon, about 30 students showed their support for Uribe as four opponents to Uribe voiced their opposition nearby.
Colombian student Carolina Toro (SFS ’12) was among those supportive of Uribe’s new post in the SFS.
“I know that Uribe did many great things for our country, and I feel personally honored that he is coming to this school. I feel really proud, and thus I feel that we should organize a group to welcome him,” she said.
School of the Americas Watch, a grassroots movement founded in 1990, helped coordinate the objections to Uribe. SOA Watch cited persecution of journalists and human rights activists, as well as the 2008 “false positives” scandal, according to a press release on the group’s website.
According to a 2008 report in The New York Times, the scandal refers to allegations that members of the Colombian military recruited impoverished citizens before killing them and presenting their deaths as casualties of combat.
any university officials have welcomed the new faculty member.
“President Uribe will bring a truly unique perspective to discussions of global affairs at Georgetown,” SFS Dean Carol Lancaster said in a university press release published Aug. 11.
“It is a great honor to participate in this prestigious Georgetown University program, sharing my experience with younger generations,” Uribe said in the same press release.
SOA Watch member Nico Udu-Gama, who was present at both events, explained his opposition to the appointment.
“We don’t need more people like Uribe coming and teaching about leadership. People who don’t know about leadership. People who know only to kill, only to set up paramilitary units, are here teaching our students about what global leadership is,” Udu-Gama said.
At Wednesday’s protest, members of the university community such as Carolina Rodríguez-Garcia, a teaching assistant for Latin American Studies courses, joined SOA Watch members voicing their opposition to Uribe.
“Uribe’s [administration] had a lot of problems, and that is why I am here,” Rodriguez-Garcia said.
A press release on the SOA Watch website stated that university faculty, alumni and students met with local activists on Aug. 31 to discuss effective ways of protesting Uribe’s presence on campus. Organizations present at the meeting included the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Foundation, Witness for Peace, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, the Service Employees International Union and No War on Cuba, according to the SOA Watch website.
In an email, Udu-Gama elaborated on the organization’s goals of educating the university and local community about what inviting Uribe to campus meant. He also said that the organization hoped that Georgetown would drop Uribe as a speaker and not make such decisions lightly in the future.
In his new position, Uribe will lead seminars, discussions and various activities within the SFS.
“My greatest wish and happiness is to contribute in the continuous emergence of future leaders,” Uribe said.
SOA Watch was founded to protest the School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, which trains Latin American soldiers and promotes education to advocate democracy in the region. Multiple graduates of the Institute have gone on to become notable violators of human rights.
Colombian student David Betancur (COL ’11) believes the former president’s presence on Georgetown is nothing but a positive one.
“These people who are protesting do not have the clear distinction that Uribe is important for Latin American politics. He is a main actor and one of the most important. His input is extremely important for the university,” he said.
In regard to the “false positives” scandal, Betancur recalled that many of the top administration members and congressmen involved with the paramilitary had been dismissed after the allegations arose.
“If you see what was happening just before Uribe came into power, there was the peak of the lack of presence of the state in the rural areas. You could get kidnapped. This was one thing that this president has done – enforce the security and presence of the state and the power of law,” Betancur continued.
Uribe was elected to the Colombian presidency in August of 2002, and subsequently re-elected in 2006.
Considered by many as a key revolutionary leader in Colombia, Uribe established fiscal policies known to have stimulated the economy and stringent security measures in a country torn by the guerilla Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). Juan Manuel Santos, who served as Uribe’s minister of national defense, was inaugurated as his successor in August. Uriber left office with an approval rating of over 70 percent.
The Office of Communications indicated there would be no formal or public welcome ceremony for Uribe’s arrival on campus.
– Hoya Staff Writer Jeremy Tramer contributed to this report.”