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Controversial Georgetown gig for Colombia's Alvaro Uribe

September 8, 2010 | 12:19 pm

Alvaro uribe georgetown ap

The arrival of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at Georgetown University is sparking campus debate on the two-term leader's legacy in security and human rights. Uribe starts work this semester as a "Distinguished Scholar in the Practice of Global Leadership" at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, where he will conduct seminars and other programs, the university said.

"We are thrilled that [Uribe] has identified Georgetown as a place where he will share his knowledge and interface with Washington, and I know that our students at the School of Foreign Service will benefit greatly from his presence," said the Georgetown school's dean, Carol Lancaster, in a university statement.

But not everyone in the Georgetown community is reacting with such enthusiasm. In comments on the personal site of university professor Anthony Clark Arend, one commenter identified as Charity Ryerson, a Georgetown law student, wrote:

I am a student at the law center and have worked extensively with the Colombian human rights community. While he was Governor of Antioquia, Alvaro Uribe was instrumental in the creation of the Convivirs, private self defense organizations that later morphed into the Colombian United Self Defense Forces, a paramilitary organization that has killed tens of thousands of Colombian civilians with the support of the Colombian state. As recently as 2006, the paramilitaries and the Colombian military ate together at the same military bases and carried out joint operations.

He routinely publicly denounced human rights defenders in his country, falsely claiming that they had ties to the guerrilla organizations in order to undermine their work. His party continues to work with illegal armed groups in the country, a situation which he, at a minimum, tolerated. He spied on opposition leaders and human rights defenders. His own DAS (similar to the FBI) passed hit lists to the paramilitaries containing names of trade unionists and human rights defenders, many of which were later killed.

And now Georgetown has legitimated him and his legacy by making him a “Distinguished Scholar in the Practice of Global Leadership.” This is an offense to the thousands of victims of his administration, to the human rights community in the US and Colombia, and is an embarrassment to Georgetown University. This decision should be reconsidered.

The commenter added a link to a tough-worded letter the group Human Rights Watch sent to U.S. President Barack Obama over Uribe's human rights record during his government's crackdown on the leftist FARC guerrillas.

Nevertheless, Uribe left Colombia's presidency with a high approval rating, and in June, Colombian voters elected Uribe's chosen successor, Juan Manuel Santos, by a margin of more than 40 percentage points.

"The legacy of Uribe, I think, is huge," said Myles Frechette, former U.S. ambassador to Colombia, in The Washington Times. "He restored Colombians' confidence in their own country. He showed them that if the government put its mind to it, it could — with assistance from the United States — beat back the guerrillas."

Colombia is the United States' closest ally in Latin America, receiving more than $7 billion in military aid since the implementation of "Plan Colombia," the equally contested aid agreement that helped Uribe's government in its efforts against drug-trafficking and terrorism.

Santos now takes up pending negotiations to allow the U.S. to use Colombian military bases and for a free-trade agreement between the two countries, which is also being protested on the Georgetown campus.

In addition to his new university job, Uribe will be busy this fall in the U.S. as vice chair of a United Nations panel on Israel's deadly raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla in May.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Alvaro Uribe, former president of Colombia. Credit: Associated Press

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