Alvaro Uribe, former president of Colombia, addressed security issues in Latin America to a capacity audience of 400 people in the Knight Management Center Cemex Auditorium Tuesday. The South American leader acknowledged claims of human rights violations by his administration, but argued that these measures were necessary to right the course of the country in the long term.
“Colombia had many problems at the time I took charge,” Uribe said.
Noting the prevalence of poverty and violence when he assumed power in 2002, Uribe noted, “these problems couldn’t be addressed until the security situation was under control.” It was difficult, if not impossible, he added, to attract foreign investment to the country until order was restored.
When Uribe took power, his country was on the brink of civil war, with large portions of the countryside and rainforest under the control of guerillas and paramilitary groups. Running on a platform of national security through military intervention and the empowerment of the people, with the slogan “Firm hand — big heart,” Uribe won the election despite his underdog status. During his eight years in power, Uribe was able to cut the country’s kidnapping rate — which ranked among the world’s highest in 2002 — by 90 percent.
“He brought a feeling of security to the minds of the Colombian people,” said Clara Gomez, a Colombian expatriate living in the U.S., of Uribe’s accomplishments during his presidency. “The work he did was invaluable, and it allowed Colombians to start living their lives again.”
“We were once more able to go back and visit friends and family; it was coming back to a totally different country,“ Gomez added.
During Uribe’s tenure as president, a significant part of the Colombian population rose out of poverty, and economic growth enabled Colombia to reach its current position as South America’s third-fastest growing economy.
Uribe appealed to other Latin American countries to learn from the experience of Colombia in solving their own problems of lawlessness and stagnation. When questioned about the security concerns raised by drug trafficking in Northern Mexico, Uribe argued that his Mexican conservative counterpart, President Felipe Calderón, who delivered the 2011 Stanford Commencement address, did an excellent job battling the drug cartels. He noted, however, that some of Calderón’s policies had to be adjusted.
Publio Adrianza Cerqueira ‘15, who was born in Venezuela and moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, noted that Calderon’s main problem was the ability to harness the power of the people as Uribe did.
“The Mexican people don’t have the same faith in the government as did the Colombians,” Cerqueira said. “They’re not convinced by what Calderón is doing.”
Uribe acknowledged that the criticism leveled against his government for human rights violations and forced internal displacement of civilians is valid. He noted, however, that some of the methods employed were necessary to reach the state of relative security that the country enjoys today.
Uribe pointed to the bombings of the Ecuadorian rainforest and the ensuing diplomatic crisis as an example of the harsh strategies needed to provide security.
One of the factors that Uribe described as key to winning the trust of the people was perseverance. He explained that he had to make tough decisions that put him under intense public scrutiny. Although Uribe said he questioned at these pivotal moments whether what he was doing was right, he decided for the sake of consistency and integrity to maintain his course, he said.
Cerqueira responded favorably to Uribe’s speech.
“His ideas are great, and the perseverance he showed in staying true to his beliefs, as well as the great faith he showed in his people through the way he harnessed their truthful energy and power, is just what the Mexican people need as they go to the polls this summer,” Cerqueira said.
The Mexican general election will be held on Sunday, July 1, 2012.