Former President Álvaro Uribe, an outspoken critic of Colombia’s peace process, visited Washington on February 11. In anticipation of his visit, WOLA prepared a list of 5 tough questions about his positions and tactics in opposing a peace accord that could very well remove the FARC—the largest armed rebel group in the country—as a contributor to the violence in Colombia.
While speaking to reporters in D.C., Álvaro Uribe addressed the exact five questions laid out in WOLA’s memorandum.
Many in the United States recall Álvaro Uribe as the president who launched a military buildup that weakened Colombia’s largest left-wing guerrilla group, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and who negotiated the demobilization of pro-government paramilitary groups. Though Colombia still has some of the world’s highest violent crime rates, Uribe’s presidency saw a sharp drop in homicides and kidnappings.
To many in the United States, though, Uribe is a controversial figure. Even as Colombia’s armed forces killed over 3,000 civilians during his tenure, he actively opposed human rights investigations and labeled human rights defenders “spokespeople for terrorism.”
Today, Senator Uribe is Colombia’s most vocal opponent of the peace negotiations with the FARC that his successor, President Juan Manuel Santos (2010-present), launched in 2012.
Uribe’s fall in popularity owes to his increasingly radical views, to his human rights record, and to the scandals that have hit several members of his innermost circle. These include his presidential chief of staff (banned for 18 years from participating in politics for abusive use of wiretaps); his agriculture minister (sentenced to prison for corruption, currently a fugitive); his chief peace negotiator (currently a fugitive wanted for alleged involvement in a fake guerrilla demobilization); and two chiefs of his presidential intelligence agency, one in prison for conspiracy to commit murder, and one who just returned to Colombia last week after fleeing from justice in Panama. Now, his party’s 2014 presidential candidate is under investigation for conspiring with a computer hacker to intercept communications.
The FARC negotiations have moved slowly but have made important progress. Before the end of the year, many observers see a real possibility of an accord that can remove the FARC as a factor of violence in Colombia.
Washington has shown consistent bipartisan support to President Santos’s peace process. While WOLA hopes that this bipartisan support will continue, we also welcome visits from critics of the process and believe that critics, like Álvaro Uribe, deserve a hearing. The concerns of critical sectors of Colombia’s democracy must be taken into account, to the greatest extent possible, to guarantee a broader front of support for an eventual accord and its implementation. A post-conflict Colombia should resolve its political differences through dialogue and respect for human rights, not violence.
Uribe Addresses but Fails to Respond to WOLA’s Questions:
On February 10, while speaking to reporters in D.C., Álvaro Uribe addressed, but failed to respond, to the exact five questions laid out in WOLA’s memorandum.
This video shows Álvaro Uribe responding to WOLA’s questions:
Below are WOLA’s initial questions, as well as our reaction to the former president’s responses.
Q1: Why does Senator Uribe keep insisting that these peace negotiations will let human rights abusers off the hook?
“Why does the Democratic Center [Uribe’s political party] insist that the current peace process is a process of impunity? We are going to give reasons why this is a process of impunity, impunity that will generate new violence.”
Uribe’s response was somewhat evasive, and he never quite gave an explanation for his logic beyond vague fears about impunity.
Q2: Why is Senator Uribe convinced that a peace accord with the FARC will turn Colombia into a country dominated by ‘Castro-Chávez-ism?’
“Why does the Democratic Center insist that Colombia with this accord could become a country within the Castro-Chavista orbit? For several reasons that we will explain before the international community.
First, here they are already using the Castro-Chavista practice of restricting freedoms. In Venezuela they have expropriated media outlets, like they did in Cuba. Here, for example, they give million-peso contracts to Semana magazine to put it at the service of the government, damaging its independence. Nevertheless its director is the nephew of the President of the republic.
In addition, we are going to express all of our concerns about the points in these accords that affect private initiative and could lead Colombia into the Castro-Chavista orbit.”
In his answer, Uribe gave no examples to support his claim that the center-right Santos government is steering Colombia on the same path as Venezuela and Cuba, apart from echoing allegations that public contracts were given to one media outlet.
Q3: Why does Senator Uribe talk to the armed forces in such a dangerous manner?
In its original memo, WOLA criticized Uribe’spublic and regular statements accusing President Santos of betraying and disrespecting the Colombia’s armed forces. Some of his tweets are direct appeals to the officer corps, with an apparent intent to sow doubt about their commander.
WOLA asked Uribe should explain why he engages in a practice that would be taboo in the United States and in most other nations with healthy civil-military relations. His response:
“Why have we said that this government [the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos] has humiliated the armed forces? Because it has treated them like the illegitimate forces of a dictatorship, he has not respected them like the forces of democracy.
The world has to understand that our Armed Forces have been forces of democracy, not of dictatorship, and that as a result it is inadmissible, unacceptable what the Santos government wants to do by treating our armed forces as though they were identical, to put them on the same level as terrorism.”
Uribe’s response is a non-answer. We asked why Uribe dangerously calls on the armed forces to disrespect their commander-in-chief, yet he responded by dangerously calling on the armed forces to disrespect their commander-in-chief.
Q4: Would Senator Uribe agree to a bilateral cessation of hostilities?
“Why are we in disagreement with what has been called the bilateral cessation of hostilities? Because the function of the state is security, not crime, while on the other hand the task of criminals is crime.
We cannot put on equal footing a state that provides security with criminals who are murdering and kidnapping. That is why we say that a bilateral cessation is inappropriate and would also be unconstitutional, that it requires a the unilateral cessation of criminal activities on the part of terrorism.”
In the original memo, WOLA questioned why the senator would oppose the current momentum towards a bilateral ceasefire, which if implemented could protect thousands of civilians from the ravages of war. For Uribe, even though negotiators are already discussing how to put an end to the FARC’s violations of international humanitarian law (like laying landmines and recruiting children), this is not enough.
Q5: Does Senator Uribe support negotiation of anything beyond surrender terms?
“Why does Senator Uribe of the Democratic Center only want the FARC’s surrender? What we have said is that this cannot be put in terms of peace or war. We have already spoken of what is the democratic disarticulation of terrorism through generous reinsertion [programs], but without impunity and without affecting the rule of law.
What the Santos government is doing is not the disarticulation of terrorism, but the disarticulation of the rule of law, of liberties, of private initiative, of institutional independence.”
WOLA’s final question related to the way the former president frames the Colombian armed conflict. For him, the only viable option is to force the FARC to surrender regardless of how long the battlefield campaign takes and no matter the cost in lives and harm to victims. As WOLA Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy Adam Isacson puts it, this view simply “defies credulity.”