Álvaro Uribe is, without a doubt, the most influential political figure in Colombia. He was president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010 where he became a great ally of the United States. On the day of Joe Biden’s inauguration, El American interviewed him to discuss the threat of Cuban infiltration in his country, the political transition in the United States and the hegemony of Big Tech.
There was recently a report from SEMANA magazine in which they warn about the infiltration of the Cuban regime in Colombia. How do you view this? How serious do you think this is?
Cuba continues to export communism. And they abuse the trust of countries such as Colombia. I would like to refer to two aspects: first, everything Castro did with Chávez. The Reuters agency released a very important report, which I allowed myself to publish on the networks on Sunday. The Cuban strategy was to teach the Chavistas the art of espionage, crushing dissidents, and interfering in other countries. Of course, Venezuela’s biggest neighbor is Colombia, which has seen this interference.
Cuba has done enormous damage to Venezuela. Now, it is doing it to Colombia through Venezuela. The recent report shows that the intention of damage is already direct. And Colombia, a country that entrusted Cuba. That strikes me as very serious.
Venezuela is now sending us their misfortune, their tragedy. They have destroyed freedoms and private enterprise. And they sacrificed three generations of Cubans. And Venezuela has been dealing with this tragedy since 1999. In other words, we must be very clear.
Now, Orlando, everything about Cuba is disguised in the theme of peace. Because the word peace is captivating. Who dislikes the word peace? Nobody dislikes it, dear Orlando. And all this about Cuba has been dressed up in the word peace. They use the captivating word peace in order to deceive. And now we see the kind of peace they have brought about.
The FARC signed the peace treaty because Cuba and Venezuela gave them permission and told them: “How can they not sign if Santos has given them everything?” And Santos signed because the United States gave him permission.
When we won the plebiscite with the “NO” vote, we asked the United States a lot to help reform the agreement. We couldn’t, we didn’t succeed. What is clear is that for Cuba peace means the introduction of neo-communism through terrorism and its political allies.
That is why I am very concerned about the issue of the ELN. Because the country has already had to succumb to the FARC. What does Cuba want? Another surrender by the Colombian State?
Cuba is very effective for peace, but only when peace is a surrender to terrorism. And it is very worrying that Cuba, by means of this espionage, is already arming itself. Not through Venezuela but directly, in order to damage Colombian democracy and to achieve the establishment of neo-communism here.
Do you think Colombians understand that as long as Cuba continues to be the same as it was sixty years ago, Colombia is not safe? Do you think that the Colombian government understands this?
I trust that they do. And I trust that President Duque and the government are aware of this enormous risk. And of course, I cannot say what the government should do, I belong to the same party as the President of the Republic. Iván Duque, with his wisdom and intelligence, handles our international relations. But look, in the face of such a damaging interference with democracy, any decision by the national government, however drastic, will be justified.
Last night I heard Salud Hernández say that Cuba has been spying all its life. Those relations should not be broken, but rather they should be stopped and counter-espionage should be carried out. Has that helped? I spent eight years in the presidency and suddenly one of my mistakes was not having a clear awareness of that problem. Today we have a clearer awareness.
Can Colombia counteract that Cuban damage through actions carried out within a normal diplomatic relationship? I very much doubt it. Because last night I started thinking about Salud Hernández, but the issue of these decisions is ultimately up to the president.
How big a threat do you think Cuba poses to next year’s Colombian elections?
Well, Cuba is another factor. And another factor is Venezuela. And another is the distortion that has been created here. On Sunday, I shared an article by Lacan, the Frenchman. These people have changed the culture, they have erased history. He believes that history is what they imagine. These people prefer ideology to reality.
This is a fragile country. First, the economy and the social fabric were very badly damaged when Santos left office. I did not leave office with this country as a paradise, but it was a country that was improving and the numbers speak for themselves. Whether it be security, investment, or social policy, how much did it improve under Santos? Duque was making improvements, but the pandemic has affected this progress. Poverty has grown, so our intention is that all economic policy should revolve around achieving a reduction in poverty.
Such high poverty, Venezuela and Cuba, and our national discourse contribute to creating enormous risks for the country in the 2022 elections. That is why we are talking about vaccination, a strong economic policy with the private sector (aimed at reducing poverty), and security. .
Do you see the risk of fraud with, for example, Smartmatic, in the upcoming presidential elections?
I don’t have much information on that subject. The truth is that what happened in Venezuela was dramatic. What I was told about Chávez’s frauds is that at 12 o’clock the government knew how the voting was going; then when the government saw that it was going badly, they immediately mobilized their voter fraud operations. That may be a risk, but I am not knowledable enough to discuss this year.
What do you think of all the allegations of fraud in the U.S. elections?
Hopefully, the U.S. will get over that, clarify it. The United States has been a point of reference for our democracies. If there were a stain on electoral purity in the United States, it would affect the United States for a long time and our democracies. All I want is for that to be clarified in America. For the good of America and our countries. Because the democratic projects of our countries have always looked to the United States.
Do you see strong institutions in America today?
The United States has strong institutions, but I cannot go into that question now. With this tension in the United States. It is not useful for a person like me, who has been a friend of the United States and who received its support during his presidency, to go in and make comments. All I wish is the best and that any doubts can be overcome so that the United States can continue to be a democratic paradigm.
You recently referred to a giant controversy, which affects all of us: the power of large technology companies. What do you think about what companies like Twitter, Google, or Facebook did to Donald Trump when he was still president of the United States?
I will tell you an anecdote: in the national strike in Colombia, before the year 2019, I published a series of photographs and videos of vandalism in Bogotá. And my Twitter account was suspended. I ask why and they claimed I had published a photo (spread by the promoters of the strike), where on a board they said who the organizers were. They told me that I had violated a principle of publicity even though that was public! Imagine, and they suspended my account at the moment I was making some vandalism allegations. For God’s sake, Orlando!
Undoubtedly these technological platforms have created many opportunities for citizens to express themselves. When I read them, there are ideas, news, and a lot of anger and hate is expressed, which is not good. Then comes the power they wield. I would say the following: freedom of expression is a great achievement of humanity in the struggle for the rule of law. It is a sacred value. It should never be a crime to express yourself. Especially not a crime imposed by the state. So, a platform that decides who will and won’t be censored… that is a violation of freedom of expression. Then they argue: the platform is private and as a private platform it has rules and applies them. Then one answers: it is private, but it is as important in providing a public information and communication service as the traditional media – or even more!
These platforms have been outperforming the media. So, I would say they have that responsibility. And those duties are above their statutes. That’s why if someone committed a crime, they have to be reported to the justice system. Let the justice system make those decisions. But I think it’s worrying that the platforms are taking on these powers. So, yes, I am concerned.
They say that such a speech incited an act of vandalism. Man, that is a decision for the state to make. In Colombia, we have suffered a lot from private justice (executions by the FARC, ELN, paramilitaries). If there is anything that needs to be reclaimed, it is the state’s monopoly on impartial, enforced, and effective justice. That should not be replaced by anyone in the private sector.
Considering that Google, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple have the power to make you dissappear, even including president of the United States, what could be done to address this problem?
They can make me disappear very easily, just imagine. I’m 68 years old. A very unfair legal problem against me. I made it in politics through personal and intense communication with my compatriots since I was a teenager. The only way I can express myself is through social media and if an outlet share what I say. They have censored media outlets, so they can censor individuals too.
These platforms that had the intelligence to create these technological advances must also have the intelligence to take care of freedoms.
So what can be done?
I’m not sure. Because I am very afraid that the state will regulate them. Because you know where to start, but you don’t know where you will end up. How about a path of censorship?
What would you rescue from the Trump government in Latin America?
I would say that the Trump administration had a clear discourse against Venezuela, against terrorism; against tyranny, in favor of liberties. It took clear actions, that is to be applauded. Sadly, they did not manage to do enough and the dictatorship continues and has even gained a sense of stability.
Why do I believe that this dictatorship in Venezuela has stabilized? It is a country rich in oil, it produces little, but it still has enough for the bare minimum. It has great support from drug trafficking, which provides with it money. It also has gold reserves. Venezuelans living abroad send remittances to their relatives in Venezuela. The armed forces did not want to support Guaidó. They stayed loyal to Maduro.
The United States made important decisions, but they have not been enough. And out of all the reasons I have mention there is one another: financial aid from Russia.
We must continue to think about this. Venezuela has had its freedoms destroyed; it is a great danger to the region (especially for Colombia and for the United States). I would say that in the region, the United States has had two dangers: that of the nuclear missiles installed by Khrushchev in Cuba and the danger of Venezuela, which harbors terrorist groups from all over the world with a common denominator: they are all enemies of the United States.
Another administration is beginning, and with it very different expectations: it could be an administration diametrically opposed to the previous one. What should we ask of Joe Biden’s government in relation to Colombia or Venezuela?
I believe that with regard to Venezuela, the facts speak for themselves about the danger it presents. With regard to Colombia, to help consolidate a bipartisan policy. With respect to the region: this issue of the pandemic forces the countries that are the headquarters of the pharmaceutical companies that produce the vaccine to accelerate the delivery of that vaccine to our respective populations.
I would say: Venezuela, vaccination, bipartisan policy and participation of the United States in all the financing requirements of our countries.
Finally, what do you think is the greatest threat facing the continent today?
I would say the pandemic and its consequences. And of course, the resentment and social problems that have given rise to movements and possible future governments with neo-communist ideas.
I would like the Fernandez government in Argentina not to make this mistake. Or that of Luis Arce in Bolivia. And I hope there is a good government in Ecuador. I believe that we have lost ten years of fight against poverty, plus the neo-communist resentment. The ideological divisions. These are all great risks for the region.
Alvaro Uribe was President of Colombia between 2002 and 2008.