Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe stressed the importance of Colombia’s free trade agreement (FTA) with the U.S. during his first lecture to students of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Washington D.C.’s Georgetown University Thursday, according to news source Efe.
Despite a protest mounted against the Colombian leader prior to the lecture, Uribe entered the school escorted by body guards in order to give his first conference on economics in Latin America to a group of thirty students.
Attending students reportedly agreed to a “pact of honor” not to disclose specific details about what was discussed in the lecture. However students did reveal that Uribe “focused more on theory and what the country [Colombia] has done to open up the market,” such as negotiating FTAs with countries such as the U.S.
Colombian student Cristina Botero said that Uribe “did not speak about Colombia’s internal politics” but instead examined “the implications for Colombia if a neighbor country doesn’t agree with Colombia wanting to open markets with other countries like the U.S.”
Botero said that one student had made awkward comments to Uribe during the lecture, but was forced to leave.
Outside of the building a group of protesters simulated an Uribe lecture to emphasize the leader’s “legacy of violence” during his eight year rule, which they said was characterized by “corruption, human rights violations and widespread impunity.”
“We are going to keep coming each time that Uribe is here. We feel that it is an insult to educational institutions and to the students who have paid to be here to have a man with links to paramilitaries,” said student Lupita Aguila Arteaga, who is a member of the “Coalition Adios Uribe,” a protest group which condemns Uribe’s human rights record in his eight years as Colombian president.
“It sets a bad example. That man should be in a jail in Colombia, or before a judge for all the crimes against humanity during his presidency,” another activist told Efe.
Despite the harsh criticisms against Uribe and the controversy that his appointment as a “distinguished scholar in the practice of global leadership” at the university has sparked, students and teachers expressed their satisfaction with his lecture.
“I want him to know that there are a lot of people at Georgetown who are not only grateful but proud that the he is here,” said Barranquilla native Orlando Ardila.
Professor Barbara Kotchwar, who led the class along with Uribe, praised the Colombian leader saying that he “showed a lot of knowledge on economic policy in general and the Colombian economy.”
Meanwhile, Colombian priest and human rights activist Javier Giraldo wrote in a letter of protest to U.S. Jesuit organization Dear John saying that Uribe’s presence at Georgetown is “offensive” and “puts at risk” the ethical development of students who attend his lectures.
Following the seminar, Uribe announced he hopes one day to open a university in Colombia for the nation’s poorest citizens.
During his time at Georgetown, Uribe is expected to work with faculty members to “help foster conversations on important issues facing the international community.” His next lecture is scheduled for November.
Uribe has been busy since he handed over the reigns of power to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on August 7. On August 10 he took his seat as vice chairman of the United Nations inquiry into an Israeli attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who appointed Uribe to the panel, defended the selection of the former president against international criticism.