When Colombia’s government announced last month that it wanted to enter into a bilateral truce with the leftist rebels of the FARC by New Year’s Day, some glimmers of hope that a gory 50-year conflict could soon come to an end seemed to become more tangible.
But an influential Colombian politician, speaking Friday on the University of Miami campus, warned that instead of bringing a lasting peace to his country, the negotiation process with the rebels will only weaken and erode confidence in his country’s institutions.
“Colombia should never link narco trafficking with political crime,” Álvaro Uribe, former president of Colombia and now a senator, told an audience of about 250 businesspeople, academics, community members, diplomats, and students gathered inside UM’s Newman Alumni Center for a forum hosted by the institution’s Center for Hemispheric Policy.
“This process gives legitimacy to the FARC and demoralizes the military. It gives immunity, pardon, and political eligibility to the kingpins of the FARC,” said Uribe, criticizing the policies of his successor, current president of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos.
For the past three years, the Colombian government has been holding peace talks with the leadership of the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, in Havana in an effort to end a conflict with the narco traffickers that has taken approximately 220,000 lives. On September 23, FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, also known as “Timochenko,” and President Santos, shook hands and decided to start a phase of amnesty and pardons that could result in reduced sentences for members of the FARC as well as reparations to victims.
Santos, who was minister of defense in the Uribe administration, has reversed previous policies of the government by entering into negotiations with the rebels—a practice that constitutes the major point of disagreement for Uribe with the current administration. “After all of this struggle against narco trafficking, it is now just being treated as a political crime,” said Uribe.
Uribe, who was president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010, was introduced by UM President Julio Frenk, who expressed great admiration for Uribe and said, “It would be an understatement to say that President Uribe needs no introduction. He is known throughout the world as the president whose policies and actions have played a big part in rescuing his country from an onslaught of guerilla forces intent on weakening the democratic institutions of his country.”
Bruce Bagley, a UM professor and chair of the Department of International Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, acted as moderator during a 20-minute Q&A session with the audience.
Uribe discussed a range of topics, from the influence of “Castroism” in Latin America and Venezuela’s economic and political demise to the need for Latin America to strengthen its institutions and build stronger respect for the rule of law.
Asked his opinion on how the international community had accepted the ongoing Colombian peace process, Uribe said, “It is a lack of respect to place FARC and the armed forces as equal political actors. Members of ETA (the Basque nationalist and separatist group in northern Spain) went to jail. Why then does Spain want to support FARC with impunity? This country [the United States] would not give impunity to al-Qaeda.”
Talking about the future of Latin America, Uribe said that he sees ‘progressive’ and ‘regressive’ democracies in the region and highlighted what he considers to be the five key elements for democracies to advance: security, investment confidence, social policies, independent institutions, and pluralistic participation.
Uribe said that the fall of commodities in Latin America, which has led to an economic decline in the region, presents an opportunity for democracies.
“My hope is that these years of low commodity prices could be a time to rethink the necessity to improve institutions, give confidence to the private sector and understand that to overcome poverty and to create fair income distribution, we need to work hand in hand with the private sector on social policies.”