Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | October 5, 2010

I’d elbow my way into Uribe’s class at Georgetown

I’d elbow my way into former President Uribe’s class at Georgetown this fall. He’s not at all popular there, and he may not even be entrusted with a class of his own. Apparently, he’ll guest lecture.

The very idea that Uribe is a Distinguished Scholar at the Walsh School of Foreign Service has given rise to “the Coalition Adios Uribe! @ Georgetown,” the Facebook group “What will Alvaro Uribe teach at Georgetown?” and numerous organized protests. On closer reading of the comments posted on these pages and the arguments the protesters use, it seems the topic has attracted  professional activists, seemingly nibblers of human rights topics. Do they know enough about Colombia pre and post-Uribe? And aren’t universities about having a dialogue? About debate? And about taking a moment to read the literature, process, and retain something from your professors before you recite what the news outlets repeat?

Moreover, eighty academics, including Noam Chomsky from M.I.T., Deborah Poole from Johns Hopkins, and Gilbert Joseph from Yale, signed a letter expressing indignity at Georgetown’s invitation. They cited Uribe’s human rights record, accusing Uribe of maintaining direct contact with paramilitary groups whose actions led to mass displacement of rural families. (There are 4 million displaced people in Colombia, the second largest displaced population in the world. Yes, I agree, an outrage.) Uribe has also been accused of ordering the wiretapping of opposition members, journalists, human rights activists, and Supreme Court judges. Yes, these are also serious charges.

Further, Jesuits say that Uribe does not represent the ideals of Georgetown, the oldest and largest Catholic and Jesuit university in America, founded in 1789.

Still, there is much to learn from Uribe: His high popularity throughout his mandate shows Colombians credit—and thank—him for giving us back our country. The FARC were on Bogotá’s periphery when he took office, and during his first inauguration, the FARC set off artisan mortars that exploded against the façade of the presidential palace and wounded one of the former first lady’s bodyguards. Other artisan mortars, aimed at Bogotá’s Military Academy, went off in a nearby slum. Twenty-two people were killed and sixty were wounded. The victims were Bogotá’s poorest, the very same the FARC claims to fight for.

Now, at the end of his eight-year mandate, the FARC are cornered, taking refuge in caves in jungle areas. A sense of security brought back local and foreign investment and tourism, and somewhat pumped up the economy (even for the poor). Just yesterday, an AOL screen page urged Americans to visit Colombia, and that translates to added income for Colombians of all classes.

Undeniably, Uribe is a leader.

For starters, I’d ask Uribe:

Señor Presidente (I think that’s how you are still supposed to address him), during your time as governor of Antioquia, from 1995 to 1997, you developed a model of community participation in key government decisions, in areas of job creation, education, public procurement, and security, how did that come about? Why continue these “public audiences” into your presidency? Why broadcast them on TV? (Did you get the idea from C-Span!)

Señor Presidente, you led by a strong hand and I understand the need to restore security in Colombia, but were you not afraid of eroding Colombia’s institutions? Wouldn’t corroded institutions lead to bigger problems in the long-term? Some people called your administration a one-man show, are you not afraid of what monster you might have left behind?

Señor Presidente, when you were working on disarmament of the paramilitaries, of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, what was discussed? How was it similar to past disarmaments?

No academic, and I mean neither Noam Chomsky, nor Deborah Poole, nor Gilbert Joseph, has the first-hand experience that Uribe has had. Georgetown is an academic setting, and to breed tomorrow’s intellectuals, and tomorrow’s global leaders, today’s students have to be exposed to a broad range of opinions.

I would, I really would elbow my way into this class. I’d do the extra reading, just to be able to pose questions in an intellectual way. I’d show up for office hours, just to unveil who is this legend—Uribe, the human rights violator, Uribe, Colombia’s messiah. Which is it?


  1. This is the good info. Thanks

  2. I think it’s interesting that you call Adios Uribe both “professional activists” and “nibblers.” Which is it?

    When Uribe calls people like Holman Morris part of the “intellectual bloque” of the FARC ( ), he gives paramilitaries the green light to kill them.

    Uribe undermined human rights in Colombia by demonizing his enemies and going after the critical press. Not surprising that he was popular when he eroded the system that would criticize him.

    Here are some of the other scandals which afflict Uribe:

    False positives” scandal, or the murder of civilians and disguising them as guerrillas post-mortem

    Death threats the DAS sent to human rights defenders

    Well-established links between the military and the illegal, narcotrafficking armed groups known as the paramilitaries that performed “limpiezas” or social cleansing in Colombian towns

    Illegal wiretapping scandal

    Continual veiled threats to journalists and human rights defenders that Uribe made on national television, making them targets for paramilitaries

    Parapolitics scandal, wherein Colombian congresspeople were found to have signed oaths of loyalty to the AUC, one of Colombia’s paramilitary organizations

  3. He is a human rights violator, even if you choose to believe he is a messiah.

    You should also ask him, “What was your direct contact with the AUC and other paramilitary groups during throughout your career? There are many accusations that you facilitated their operations.”

    “Why did the US Dep. of Defense write in a report that you are a ‘Colombian politician and senator dedicated to collaboration with the Medellin cartel at high government levels… Uribe has worked for the Medellin cartel and is a close personal friend of Pablo Escobar Gaviria’?”

    “Why have you told students at Georgetown that no one was disappeared or displaced during your tenure as President when this defies fact and reality?”

    Undoubtedly, Alvaro Uribe has an interesting perspective due to his long career in powerful positions. So does Omar al-Bashir. So did the late Slobadan Milosevic. These two men are/were also wildly popular in their homelands. But just like them, Uribe has proven to be unwilling to take responsibility for the atrocities committed during his tenure as President.

    Academia is about honesty, looking at both the positive and the negative. Uribe continues to respond with anger and misinformation when questioned about the negative, making his appointment a simple attempt to whitewash his, to put it mildly, “checkered” past. He therefore has no place in academia. The arguments you cite for his inclusion could also be used for some of the biggest criminals of the last century.

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