Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s visit to campus drew passionate responses this past Friday, as a group of Colombian students presented the president with a letter criticizing his decision to seek a third term in office while a number of local residents protested outside Uribe’s speech at the Institute of Politics.
According to Juanita M. Goebertus, a student at Harvard Law School, a group of students from the Harvard Colombian Society collectively decided to write a letter to Uribe declaring their opposition to seeking a third term, a prospect currently prohibited by Colombian term limits.
The final letter, which the students presented to Uribe in person, garnered 30 signatures and stated that a third term for Uribe would “weaken the rule of law, as well as threaten the separation of powers of the Colombian state.”
Laura Jaramillo ’10, who was present at the meeting with Uribe and signed the letter, said she was impressed by the way in which he responded to each of their individual arguments against a leader remaining in power by amending the Constitution’s term limits.
“I think when we came in we were perfectly aware that we weren’t going to change his mind,” Jaramillo said. “But for many of us, it was a moral issue. We had the chance to sit down with the president of Colombia and to make a stand about something that is extremely important to us and to Colombian democracy.”
Those outside the Harvard community also protested Uribe by picketing on the sidewalk outside the Institute of Politics before the speech on Friday afternoon. Representing a number of different labor groups, immigrants’ rights organizations, and antiwar coalitions in Boston and Cambridge, they held signs in both English and Spanish with slogans such as “No Uribe, No More Death Squads,” and “Uribe: Fascist, Imperialist Worm.”
Uribe acknowledged the protesters in his speech, saying “Many have said ‘Uribe Paramilitar,’ ‘Uribe Fascista,’ but freedoms were restricted not because of the government, but because of the advance of terrorist groups.”
Protesters leveled several different criticisms against Uribe, though the predominant issues were his labor policies as well as his recent pledge to allow the United States to use seven Colombian military bases in order to combat drug trafficking.
“We are here because we are aware that Alvaro Uribe is president of the most repressive government in Latin America,” Richard Krushnic, a community developer from Newton, Mass., shouted over a megaphone.
Lyn Meza, a Chelsea, Massachusetts resident who serves as coordinator of the pacifist group Chelsea United Against the War, said she turned out to oppose the U.S.-Colombia military partnership.
“In these times of economic crisis and mass unemployment, we think the resources of the United States should be put to helping the people that are unemployed and not propping up military dictators around the world,” Meza said.
—Staff writer Evan T. R. Rosenman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The original version of the Sept. 27 news article "Locals, Students Protest Uribe's Speech" incorrectly stated that the Harvard Colombian Society collectively decided to draft a letter opposing any attempt by President Alvaro Uribe to seek a third term. In fact, it was a group of students from the organization who drafted the letter—not the entire organization.