On Wednesday afternoon, Georgetown students, faculty, and local human rights activists gathered in Red Square to protest the hiring of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.
Georgetown hired Uribe this summer as a Distinguished Scholar in the Practice of Global Leadership in the School of Foreign Service. The group said that Uribe, who will begin teaching classes this week, had a poor human rights record while he was president of Colombia and is unfit to teach at Georgetown.
“On what basis was this man appointed to Georgetown?” Mark Lance, director of Georgetown’s Peace Studies Program, asked the group of about fifty protestors and onlookers. “He’s not a scholar of anything. … This is a man who shows contempt for the very idea of human rights work.”
Nico Udu-gama, a member of the D.C.-based School of the Americas Watch who was at the protest, said there were numerous humans rights abuses during Uribe’s eight-year presidency, including the displacement of roughly three million citizens, and the deaths of union leaders and journalists. His group had intended for the rally to coincide directly with Uribe’s arrival on campus, but he said that the University refused to disclose the details of Uribe’s arrival.
Few Georgetown undergraduates were present in Red Square on Wednesday, but SOA Watch member Laura Gonzalez was handing out flyers and trying to sign up students who passed by for email lists.
Some passers-by, however, said that they thought the protestors were misrepresenting Uribe’s legacy as president and underestimating his potential value as a professor.
“We’re very fortunate to have him,” Andrea Pradilla (MSFS ‘11) said. “The majority of people are very excited and looking forward to welcoming him here.”
“There’s a lot to be learned [from Uribe],” Robert Wood, a first-year graduate student in the Center for Latin American Studies, said. “No matter which Latin American president, from any political position, there’s still a lot to be learned.”
The coalition of protesters plan to hold similar protests on Thursday morning at Uribe’s first class in the Car Barn and that afternoon at the Mortara Center during the lecture he will give there. They will continue to hold protests for the remainder of the semester, they said, while the former Colombian President teaches two two-week blocks of classes.
One protester, Monica Gonzalez (MSFS ’11) said that the coalition has discussed offering alternative classes and organizing film showings.
“As long as we have supporters and as long as he has classes, we’ll continue,” she said.
Several protestors said that Uribe’s human rights record puts him at odds with the University’s Jesuit identity and dedication to social justice.
Gonzalez noted that last November, the University had commemorated the 1992 assassination of six Jesuit activists working in opposition to the U.S.-backed El Salvador regime. For activists like Gonzalez, the University is sending mixed messages about its commitment to human rights.
“I feel very strongly about the matter. Uribe is a killer,” David Bow, a professor of anthropology and development at George Washington University, said. “I think Georgetown should be embarrassed. I hope students can organize, make a lot of noise and bring attention to the authorities.”
Julie Green Bataille from the Office of Communications said that Uribe’s experience in dealing with difficult issues will allow SFS students to gain a better understanding of international affairs.
“Georgetown is not endorsing the political views or government policies enacted by an individual, but realizing the value in allowing a world leader’s experience to be part of campus dialogue,” Bataille wrote.
School of Foreign Service Dean Carol Lancaster declined to comment about the protest.