Former Colombia President is in D.C. to Stir Up Opposition to Peace

Latin America and the Caribbean

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe arrived in Washington D.C. yesterday and is staying through today to encourage opposition to the Colombian government’s peace talks with the FARC guerrillas.

While Uribe has kept his itinerary a secret, it appears he has met, and will be meeting with, some members of civil society and several Republican leaders. He also abruptly cancelled an event at CSIS for unknown reasons.

As Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported, Uribe’s main goal is to argue peace negotiations are “really a process of impunity” that “threaten the private sector in Colombia.”  Never mind that they could help end a conflict that has left 220,000 dead, millions disappeared, tortured and raped, and some 5.3 million displaced.Source: Semana

Uribe, who is currently a senator, is accompanied by several members of his Centro Democrático party. Colombian magazine Semana has a run-down of his team, which includes Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who lost the 2014 presidential race and is currently under investigation for conspiring to hack into government email accounts in order to sabotage the peace talks. The group will take their message to Mexico next before heading to Europe.

Ahead of his visit, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) posted five questions about his opposition to the peace process, which highlighted the ongoing inconsistencies, hypocrisy and unsubstantiated claims in his anti-peace arguments. Uribe took on these critical questions in an interview, but managed to not directly answer any of them.

The questions included inquiries into why he insists peace negotiations with the FARC would turn Colombia into a country dominated by “Castro-Chávez,” practices, referring to the leftist authoritarianism practiced in Cuba and Venezuela. Uribe uses the term frequently, likely to fuel fear and uncertainty among Colombian citizens. President Santos is a pro-market moderate who served as Uribe’s defense minister. As WOLA pointed out, the agreements reached thus far would require no change in the country’s political or economic model.

WOLA asked whether Senator Uribe would support negotiation of anything beyond surrender terms, to which he replied:

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.

As this answer shows, Uribe insists the Colombian government will let human rights abusers go free, but President Santos has made it clear several times that a final peace accord would include punishment for those leaders who have committed the worst atrocities. Uribe’s response also means that for him, the only way to end the conflict would be the FARC’s surrender.

The problem with this response is that after billions of dollars, 15 years of substantial U.S. assistance, hundreds upon thousands dead and millions displaced and disappeared, “the guerrillas still have 6,700-10,000 members, and perhaps twice as many members of urban militias and rural support networks,” as WOLA highlighted. Given that the conflict started in the 1960s, it should be clear that this is not a fight that can be won with war. Negotiations that give FARC representation and self-determination are far more likely to stop the bloodshed than demanding a broad surrender.

While people are asking these questions about peace in Colombia, they might also want to ask Uribe about his presidential campaign being financed by the AUC paramilitary group, which is implicated in tens of thousands of cases of kidnapping, rape, massacres, extortion, drug trafficking and displacement. Or ask him how the investigation into his role in a 1997 massacre committed by AUC when he was a state governor is going.

Just this week the FARC extended its unilateral ceasefire. This peace process is actively preventing continued death and displacement, but Uribe still opposes it. And he uses the “anti-terrorism” rhetoric that became increasingly commonplace in the wake of 9/11 to try and sway popular opinion. Within this paradigm, peace advocates are typically targeted and accused of sympathizing with “terrorists.”

The United States has not been a “small ingredient” in Colombia’s armed conflict. “It’s the permanent, continued participation of the United States with money, with technology, with personnel that has fueled this conflict,” noted Victor Moncayo, an academic who helped prepare this 800-page report with 11 other scholars for the negotiators in Havana.

The United States should be rooting for Colombia’s peace. Investing in war has been expensive and unlike investing in development now, will not produce the kind of sustainable stability that the people of Colombia deserve, or that will help the hemisphere reach its potential in terms of trade or bilateral relations.

The peace negotiations are moving forward – agreements on three of the five substantive points on the negotiator’s agenda have been reached. Many observers are optimistic that an accord will be reached by the end of this year.

The Obama administration has been a consistent supporter of the peace talks in Colombia and all public displays of this have been more than welcome. Let us hope that members of Congress can see through Uribe’s rhetoric and do what is best for Colombia, the Western Hemisphere and the United States.

Sarah Kinosian is the Senior Program Associate for the Center for International Policy's Latin America Program