The Latin American Business Club of Boston College (LABC) has come under fire after hosting Álvaro Uribe—the former president of Colombia who has been accused of human rights violations, witness tampering, and corruption—to give a talk on the political landscape in Latin America last Monday.
“My purpose was to create confidence in Colombia … with three elements: security … the rule of the law … democratic values and freedoms, in contrast with what was known as a policy of national security in many Latin American dictatorships,” Uribe said at the event.
Uribe is a controversial figure in Colombia because of the killing of thousands of citizens by the Colombian army during his presidency, which is still being investigated by the United Nations. He was also arrested in August last year on charges of witness tampering, bribery, and crimes against humanity for an alleged involvement with right-wing death squads.
He was released from house arrest in October of last year. Despite these recent charges, he left the office of the president in 2010 with high approval ratings due to his handling of Colombian guerrilla groups.
Under Uribe, the Colombian military drove the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) out of Colombia’s cities and towns. He also drastically reduced the FARC and National Liberation Army’s numbers during his tenure in office. Uribe received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the United States in 2009 for these initiatives and for reducing violence throughout Colombia.
The Latin American Business Conference, which took place from Monday to Friday of last week, was comprised of a series of webinars on Zoom that featured various Latin American business experts, including Fabio Coelho, the president of Google Brazil, and Marisol Argueta de Barillas, the head of Latin America at the World Economic Forum.
In Uribe’s talk, he focused on issues of security in Latin America and discussed his ideas about democratic security. He said he was often asked if his national security policy would resemble those of many dictators in Latin America.
“My answer was no,” Uribe said. “What I want for Colombia is democratic security: security for all Colombians, security with freedoms, … security for those [who are] my friends and for those [who are] my most radical opponents.”
Maria Alejandra Silva, a research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, said in an article that Colombia suffered “egregious” human rights violations during Uribe’s tenure.
“Among these abuses were the extrajudicial killings of thousands of FARC combatants, as well as the ‘false positives’ scandal in which Colombia’s military forces killed at least 5,000 civilians, dressed them as guerrillas, and gained bonuses from the government,” she wrote.
Colombia paid a great price for this safety and security, according to Silva.
“In sum, while President Uribe is credited with the stability and security of Colombia, this security came at a great cost to civilians and represented many gross violations of human rights and ethical governance,” Silva wrote.
The recording of Uribe’s webinar that the club posted on Facebook garnered significant attention, accruing over 58,000 views and just under 4,000 comments, in which some people voiced their support for the former president while others expressed disdain.
“[I have] confidence to travel around the country because there wasn’t security before you were president of Colombia,” Daliris Marin Lo commented on the post. “I admired you Alvaro Uribe Vélez, the best president of Colombia ever.”
Other viewers strongly criticized Uribe and the LABC for hosting him. One commenter said that Uribe should not be an example at a leadership conference.
“Please, stop inviting [these] kinds of criminals to your conferences, this person should never be an example to follow,” Cristian Jara wrote.
In a statement to The Heights, the LABC stressed that its mission is to increase awareness of social, political, and economic challenges in Latin America. It aims to do this by providing diverse perspectives that showcase the complexity of various political issues, the statement reads.
The decision to invite Uribe, the LABC said, is in accordance with this mission.
“The opportunity to hear from a former President always brings distinctive value given the themes and topics our conference aims to address, and one that the community of international students from Colombia and Latin America within BC, a group that the club specifically tries to represent, showed great interest in participating in,” the statement reads.
Though the club believes Uribe brought value to the conference, one commenter, Jorge Paz, strongly disagreed with this sentiment.
“You lose any credibility by inviting a mass murderer,” Paz wrote.
Featured Image Courtesy of Center for American Progress / Wikimedia Commons