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In Defense of Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe Amid Unfair Political Attacks

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Politics is ungrateful. It shouldn’t be for people who aspire to recognition because, even when there was any, it eventually fades away. And, from recognition, people move on to complaints, insults, and deep contempt. It always happens. People begin to appreciate and admit how wrong they were about their targets only long after the person who deserved recognition is no longer around.

Alvaro Uribe Vélez saved Colombia. This is not an exaggeration, and objective facts reaffirm it. Former President Uribe saved Colombia. There is a before and an after his presidency. Anyone, even his biggest detractors, must recognize that.

Guerrillas Ran Colombia

I have dealt with people my age who, before Uribe’s presidency, didn’t even know their grandparents. Their parents’ parents were caught in the middle of the conflict with communist guerrillas, and for those who lived in Colombia’s big cities, a weekend visit to their relatives was unthinkable. People in the villages lived under the terror of hired killers and extortionists. The guerrilla groups FARC, ELN, or M-19 (of which the current president-elect Gustavo Petro was a member), had brought the state to its knees, after wearing it down in an inert struggle.

Terror reigned in Colombia. Bombs exploded daily in the busy streets of Bogotá or Medellín. All cattle ranchers had to either submit to the will of the guerrillas or confront them with weapons. The mood was one of civil war, between armed criminal structures parallel to the State and businessmen willing to give their lives to defend their families and patrimony.

Colombia was, in short, an uninhabitable country, where no one wanted to be and from which everyone wanted to leave. A country without a present and without hope. Torn apart and corroded by organized crime. But everything changed at the turn of the century when Álvaro Uribe Vélez won the 2002 presidential elections.

Uribe’s Rise to Power and Fighting Terror

Confronting the guerrillas sounds like the natural decision, but it wasn’t. The government had been fighting the guerrillas for decades. The government had been fighting the communist insurgents for decades and there were no concrete achievements. At the turn of the century, promising to do away with the guerrillas sounded like pure rhetoric and was ultimately unpopular and risky. People wanted peace, and some flirted with the idea of kneeling in exchange for harmony. For Uribe that was not an option.

He took the risk this implied. He committed to the company and as soon as he became president, Alvaro Uribe began his crusade against Colombia’s insurgent groups. And he won. Uribe’s fierceness and determination led him to conquer ground after ground he took from the guerrillas. His loyalty to the army, which for the first time had a commander-in-chief who was also risking his life, boosted the morale of dejected and frustrated men. The war against the FARC was a Colombian cause, and the whole society accompanied President Uribe. Finally, after decades, there was hope.

Wars are cruel. Excesses are innate to conflict. Nothing is desirable, and everyone gets some dirt. Although there are two sides (well-identified and with explicit moral differences) myopic people tend to equate everyone as if there were full moral equivalence. As if both sides were equally good (or bad). And, for some, killing a guerrilla, murderer, and kidnapper, was as abominable as if the guerrilla killed an innocent person.

Falsehoods About Uribe

Today, they use the argument of false positives to repudiate the successes of Alvaro Uribe’s government. As if it had been a state policy (which is completely false), and with a completely naive vision of life, they assume that in war, when blood flows in torrents, everything is rosy.

The only truth is that if today Colombia is a prosperous country, with a stable democracy, safe, and with great potential, it is thanks to former President Alvaro Uribe. If today the children who protest in the streets can visit their grandparents in the villages, travel on the roads of the country with the windows down, to the beach, it is thanks to former President Uribe. If entrepreneurs and tourists visit the country to live there for months at a time while they work from their fashionable hostels in some company in the United States or Europe, it is thanks to former President Uribe.

Because of his undeniable success, Uribe has become the most influential political figure in Colombia. Decisive and determined, he has been responsible for the country’s political course throughout this century. Verbigracia, the two presidents who succeeded him, Juan Manuel Santos and Iván Duque, are his legacy. And, for many, so are his mistakes.

In view of Gustavo Petro’s triumph, many are reflecting on what went wrong. What did the Colombian political class, society, and businessmen fail to do, for the majority to see a former extreme left-wing guerrilla as a sensible alternative? And the easiest thing, of course, is to point fingers. It is the immediate recourse. The comfortable, and of course mean, is to point at Uribe, as if Colombians by their own will had not elected the last two presidents and were not responsible, also, for the triumph of Gustavo Petro.

Alvaro Uribe has made many mistakes. His human condition drives him to blunder or carelessness. No one escapes from that. None of them. Not even if, as is the case of Petro, he is profiled by his followers as a demigod, closer to heaven than to earth.

Uribe Wasn’t Perfect, But He Saved the Nation

And many of us, too, have fallen into the error of pointing it out. To seek to dilute our mistakes and force others to share our responsibilities. To insist that the person who saved Colombia is also guilty of its possible destruction. To avoid the facts, forget the merits and join the spiral of panic and vileness of seeking to crush the character of former President Uribe.

The effort to identify those responsible is laudable and necessary. But it is sterile to insist on blaming a person who ceased to govern Colombia 12 years ago. The mistakes of his successors are not transferable to Alvaro Uribe. He, perhaps, also made a mistake in supporting them, as did all Colombians who voted for those who have governed the country in recent years and whose actions created the monster that is now taking over Colombia.

When he was president, he saved Colombia from the guerrilla and the extreme left. That was his administration, and these are facts that are not open to debate. If today Colombia fell again into the hands of far-left guerrillas, the last person to blame would be the one who pledged his life, name, and reputation to prevent it. May panic not turn into madness, and may madness not turn into injustice.

To save Colombia, references are necessary. It is unfeasible to build a resistance against the extreme left without vindicating the struggle of the former president. Symbols matter, and the left knows this very well. And if the right allows itself to be robbed of the symbols of the defense of property and freedom, then we will have been crushed.

Orlando Avendaño is the co-editor-in-chief of El American. He is a Venezuelan journalist and has studies in the History of Venezuela. He is the author of the book Days of submission // Orlando Avendaño es el co-editor en Jefe de El American. Es periodista venezolano y cuenta con estudios en Historia de Venezuela. Es autor del libro Días de sumisión.

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