Amid Student Protests, Uribe Details Plans for Stable and United Columbia

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe spoke to a packed audience at the Institute of Politics forum Friday evening, detailing his plans for Colombian social development and responding to pointed questions about the possibility that he will seek a third term in office.

Uribe was elected president in 2002 and retains an approval rating of nearly seventy percent due to the improvement in national security under his administration. He came to Harvard both to speak at the IOP and to celebrate the centennial of the Harvard Extension School, from which he holds a degree in management.

Uribe detailed the many ways his country has advanced in the past seven years, and he also laid out his vision for a stable and united Colombia.

“Colombia has seen many administrations that have not seen a single day of peace,” Uribe said. “Today, when my colleagues and I have a chance to talk with our fellow citizens, they request more police and more education, more army, more security, more investment, and more social opportunities.”

Uribe’s plan to seek a third term in office by amending the Colombian Constitution took center stage when he began fielding questions from the audience. Were Uribe to succeed, it would mark the second time he has passed an amendment in order to remain in power.

“The referendum that is pending to allow yourself to serve a third term could set a dangerous precedent for future leaders,” Jake Sloane ’12 told the President, before asking about Uribe’s reasons for seeking office yet again.

Other students took a more indirect approach. Juan Felipe Botero, a Harvard Law School student, asked, “What will be your advice to the person who shall replace you as President in less than a year’s time?” The question, which implicitly demanded Uribe step aside for the next election, drew enthusiastic cheers as well as approving laughter from the audience.

Uribe responded to both questions by pointing to political and economic gains made by his administration and stressing that the separation of powers in Colombia would prevent the unfair perpetuation of power.

Alex W. Palmer ’12, a member of the IOP forum committee, said he enjoyed the event despite Uribe’s somewhat evasive responses. “People like him got to where they are in the world by knowing how to spin questions to say what they want to say,” Palmer noted.

“It seems like he’s doing great things in Colombia,” he added.

Following the forum, Uribe was swarmed by dozens of students seeking to meet with him. He remained for nearly an hour in the forum room, speaking to students, taking photos, and signing autographs.

—Staff writer Evan T. R. Rosenman can be reached at erosenm@fas.harvard.edu.

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