Speech during the Senate plenary session “I do want peace for Colombia, but a true one:” Uribe

We do want peace, but we want to raise these concerns and propose choices.

Bogotá, December 01, 2015 (CD). Speech by former president and incumbent Sen. Álvaro Uribe Vélez during the Senate plenary session held on Tuesday where the plebiscite bill related to the peace talks in Havana was discussed:


“Thank you, Mr. President (of the Senate, Luis Fernando Velasco). My family and I, like many Colombians, have been victims. I have never spoken as a victim, nor will I. I have always supported security as a civilian, not while living in comfort, but while taking risks as a senator, mayor, governor, and president. I believe this entitles me to raise certain concerns.


We have heard many speeches tonight. For example, Sen. (Iván) Cepeda spoke about an important, generous peace agreement; others senators have made major contributions. I would like to thank senator (Armando) Benedetti, who is the proponent of the widely supported plebiscite bill, for being here. However, I am surprised that very important members of the caucus representing the Santos Administration are absent because we are not claiming any right to become negotiators or take the place of lead government negotiator Humberto de la Calle, but a right as citizens rather than minorities.


If the government talks about endorsement of peace deals by the public, this includes the idea of discerning and thinking about things, hence the possibility to make contributions. Nevertheless, as far as I can see from absenteeism of Government representatives and speeches I heard tonight, there is no chance to make contributions. We admit we are a minority that cannot take the place of Mr. De la Calle, but we have started to believe that we are entitled to make contributions in reference to the Government calling endorsement of peace deals by the public.


As far as I can see, no one is interested in it. This lack of interest is reflected by the speeches we heard tonight and the anticipation of the strong group of congresspersons. This lack of interest is reflected by the fact that Sen. Benedetti is the only Government representative who is present now. Senator (Hernán) Andrade, who spoke about reviewing the threshold –he did so timely–, is absent as well. Another important senator who raised the dilemma between peace or war made his speech and went away.


Plebiscites are neither bad nor good for democracy. Sometimes, they are similar to referenda. For example, I am proud of having called a national referendum on many topics, without trying to change the rules of the game. The less successful question made by me obtained over 4,900,000 'yes' votes and, due to some National Electoral Council's well-known and not discussed tricks, only one question that obtained almost 6,000,000 'yes' votes was approved.


This plebiscite, unlike that 2003 referendum (that will be thirteen years ago), in a country adding 500,000 or 600,000 people a year to its total population, would need 4,400,000 'yes' votes as a result of amending the laws related to participation in democracy.


Referenda are neither bad nor good for democracy, but some are bad. There has been a number of writings about France and its history and how it rapidly changed from the Declaration of Human Rights to a terror regime and how Napoleon somehow accepted terror regimes by means of his plebiscite as well as other Napoleon-like figures did.


There is a number of totalitarian plebiscites such as that of Hitler in 1938, which allowed him to invade and destroy Austria based on the participation by the German people, and that of Franco in 1947, which allowed him to appoint himself as a lifetime ruler and to claim the right to choose his successor. In 1957, when Colombian people discussed the idea of a National Front and the Venezuelan people demonstrated in the streets against dictatorships, Mr. Pérez Jiménez called another plebiscite to extend his administration and the congress for 5 more years. Fortunately, the Punto Fijo Pact, a compromise led by Rómulo Betancourt, was reached in weeks and helped Venezuela complete a transition from 50 years of dictatorships to 50 years of democracy.


And let us talk about other ones. Whenever plebiscites are called by making tricks and changing democracy rules according to the interests of the person who calls it, opposition shall be the loser in the end, although it wins them. This is the case of Chávez. He lost that plebiscite; he tried to ignore that loss and ignored it in the end by means of enabling acts; he did whatever he wanted despite that the Venezuelan people have said 'no' to that plebiscite.


The 1957 Colombian plebiscite has been mentioned this week. 4,169,294 people voted 'yes', 206,864 voted 'no', and 20,738 voted blank, resulting in a total of 4,397,000 votes. This plebiscite, which is now widely supported in the Senate, would require 4,400,000 'yes' votes.


Let us compare figures of 2003 referendum with those of 1957 plebiscite. If we take a look at the closest censuses of population before and after 1957 plebiscite, we find out that the Colombian population ranged between 13,500,000 and 14,300,000. Colombia's current population is about 48 million.


In 1957 plebiscite, there were 14 topics. Now, there is just one despite that the thorny topics encompassed are not necessarily related to each other. The dilemma between peace or war is the only topic raised.


Legal effects. The legal effect from the 1957 plebiscite was to automatically incorporate what the Colombian people had approved into our legal system. By the way, this was the first time women voted. This is one of my earliest memories. I had been born in 1952 and my mother was a women's rights activist from a coffee growing area in Antioquia. And my family, a long-suffering one as many Colombian families due to political violence, supported the idea of creating a National Front and my mother took me to many of the events where that plebiscite was supported.


What are the legal effects from this plebiscite?


This plebiscite – and I carefully listened to Sen. Benedetti's speech – is meant to be concordant with another plebiscite being approved, which is an amendment to the way the Constitution is amended. Many people believe that this is an unconstitutional way to change the way the Constitution is amended, which is being accepted by some others only because it is said to be occurring once due to this exceptional peace talks circumstance.


So, how do we understand this plebiscite? As a not isolated one. This plebiscite will be a mandate given to the 'Yes' Government for its policy to usurp upon the people's rights, incorporating constitutional matters by means of a fake amendment approved. Every single topic, such as agriculture, education, health, etc., which is to be discussed by the legislative, can now be enacted by decree by the President of the Republic of Colombia, due to the powers being given to the president. Having said that, we have not been told how topics related to justice will be enacted. Thus, this plebiscite is a sort of certificate of legitimation of both a detriment to the way the Constitution is amended – which is in progress – and an unlimited power act. This is why some Colombians call it an 'enabling act.'


We all want peace, but we do not want impunity. Impunity sets a bad example. My colleagues have explained it here. We are not demanding jail for regular guerrillas.


High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo said here that, out of 18,000 guerrillas demobilized during my Administration, just a little more than 300 were in jail. He thought he would hurt my feelings with that. We did that intentionally. Neither before nor now are we demanding jail for regular guerrillas. Instead, he made me feel proud by saying that more than 300 individuals responsible for atrocities were in jail.


Our proposals


We have been discussing ideas in the hope of being allowed to propose them and be listened as a minority and having people discerning things.


For example, in reference to individuals responsible for atrocious crimes, we are proposing, for consideration by both majorities and the Government, that the idea that, at least, a sort of imprisonment, although not in regular jails, exists is discussed with FARC. However, we find it hard to propose this, especially if we hear statements such as: “you are a minority. You are not entitled to negotiate.”


We are proposing this as citizens, based on the meaning of the 'endorsement' word for a citizen, which encompasses the verb 'to discern' and the noun 'discernment'.


That impunity, apart from all judicial discussions and regardless of the extent that every State construes the scope of the International Criminal Court compromise, sets a bad example and encourages further violence. In many Colombian areas, FARC uniforms are being exchanged for those of the ELN and the criminal gangs (Bacrim) start to believe they are allowed as well to take part in this peace talks.


We do want peace, but we do not find it convenient to accept that individuals responsible for crimes against humanity and other serious war crimes become eligible for politics. We do not find it convenient for Colombia to consider that drug trafficking and kidnapping are crimes connected with political offenses, in order to having FARC members become eligible for politics. Why do we believe so? Because that sets a bad example, because this has been a respected democracy, and because we do not understand that, under democracy, those responsible for atrocious crimes are rewarded with the right to become eligible for politics.


Nowadays, neither someone divested of their title as congressperson nor someone sentenced for stealing a bicycle can be elected; however, those responsible for atrocious crimes will be surprisingly able to be elected.


We do want peace, but we find it worrisome that FARC members become eligible for politics in areas exclusive to them.


We do want peace, but we want to raise concerns regarding the Court of Justice. Mr. Pres.: once I dared to ask you and Sen. Serpa, whom I have always be able to exchange ideas with in spite of our disagreements, to consider various topics brought up by us. I wish someone from the Government and other National Unity representatives would hear them.


The Court of Justice. The Constitution is being replaced in reference to a critical topic, which is the fact that the Court of Justice is a public power institution. Proceedings will be brought against this to be considered invalid; nevertheless, I am sure that the Constitutional Court of Colombia will consider it valid by saying that it will occur once due to this exceptional peace talks circumstance.


I do not agree with the statements of some who understand Transitional Justice in a particular way, by saying that State officials and their enemies must submit themselves to Transitional Justice. We have said that, against democracy, the idea that terrorists are political actors is not applicable. We propose the following idea to all: Why do not you tell the Government and negotiators that Transitional Justice is applied to a sole political actor (FARC) who is an actor in a unilateral armed conflict? Why am I saying “unilateral”? Because neither the Colombian people nor the Colombian Armed Forces have been in conflict with FARC. On the contrary, the Colombian people are victims of FARC and the Colombian Armed Forces have been protecting the Colombian people.


We are not saying tonight that, as we are positive about it, we are totally denying the conflict. Let us say it is exclusive for FARC. Thus, based on interpretations, let us accept that it is a unilateral FARC conflict and that only FARC members, neither civilians nor militaries, are submitted to that Transitional Justice and that court of justice. Let us sort out the issue with the militaries without impunity and bring them to justice. We have presented this bill several times. We have been asked to make proposals, although we have been told not to do so as well. We have been told that this all about accepting all that the Government and FARC agree upon without question. However, we would rather continue to make proposals.


We do want peace, but we believe that drug trafficking and kidnapping cannot be likened to political offenses. And I do not accept to be told that I did so with the paramilitaries during my administration. The Justice and Peace Act, which was necessary as a result of the Democratic Security policy, was applied to both 18,000 guerrillas and 35,000 paramilitaries. That act clearly stated that offenders mainly involved in paramilitary or guerrilla warfare, although involved in drug trafficking to finance their main activities, could submit themselves to that act, but not enjoy impunity.


Those who met those conditions were not denied submitting themselves to that act, but were denied both impunity and eligibility for politics. Under the Justice and Peace Act, guerrillas and paramilitaries involved in drug trafficking were given lenient sentences, but neither impunity nor eligibility for politics.


Nevertheless, let us discuss not only Colombia's recent legislation, but also another topic: the real sources of law. Facts must be considered. Drug trafficking has been a source of terror, not a source of political activity in Colombia. Kidnapping has been a means of torture, not a means of political activity in Colombia. This is why we say we do want peace, but we did not understand that drug trafficking and kidnapping are likened to political offenses.


We do want peace, but what we do not understand is that the fight against drug trafficking and illegal crops is almost suspended by the Government looking forward to undertaking that fight again together with FARC. If FARC members cooperate once the peace compromises are reached, that would be great. However, the State cannot give up on its mandatory fight against crime on the pretext of looking forward to reaching a peace compromise with FARC.


We do want peace. We have said that Colombians would rely more upon these peace talks if FARC agreed to concentrating in a given area and permitting authorities to oversee they are honoring the promise of not committing crimes again; thus, from that fact, people can infer that whoever is committing crimes outside that area is not a FARC guerrilla. What we cannot accept is the idea proposed by FARC that the State gives up sovereignty over a territory on the pretext of concentration in that area.


We do want peace based on a private, solidary, inclusive economy model. We do not agree with the idea that peasants are given ZRCs (Spanish initials for Peasant Reserve Zones) and entrepreneurs are given Zidres (Spanish initials for Zones of Interest for Rural, Economic and Social Development) whose draft bill is being discussed here in the Congress.


We have expressed our criticism about both. As ZRCs prevent real estate properties inside them from being freely traded, they refuse projects from entrepreneurs, have not rewarded peasants, and has been FARC warfare domains. I would like to suggest an idea if I am allowed to do so as a representative from a minority. Based on an analysis of progress made in areas with legal crops in Colombia, we, the Centro Democrático party, have concluded that real progress is reflected only in those areas under the influence of entrepreneurs. Areas with legal crops where peasants are making progress are only those where peasants and entrepreneurs are working together. In María La Baja, peasants are making progress because they are working together with entrepreneurs. In Catatumbo, peasants were making progress because they were working together with entrepreneurs. In reference to avocado and pineapple crops, peasants were making progress because they were working together with entrepreneurs. We are committed to supporting private, solidary, and inclusive entrepreneurship. We believe that peasants and entrepreneurs must be integrated and not segregated.


We know that the land is a limited resource. Therefore, we are not horrified by the idea of prohibiting or limiting that the land is owned by foreigners. However, foreigners should not be prevented to any extent from owning either technology or state-of-the-art technology development plans.


We do want peace, but we believe that private inclusive entrepreneurship is the only way to overcome poverty and illegal street trading. We all want peace, without strangling private entrepreneurship. Humberto de la Calle told us here in the Congress that peace agreements do not entail any risk for private entrepreneurship. Nevertheless, many of the clauses set forth in the text from the peace talks do entail risks.


I am going to mention something related to the peace talks and something not related thereto. Colombian private entrepreneurship is very strangled today. Colombian economy is the fourth most taxed in the world. And when I listened here Mr. De la Calle speech and then, about two or three weeks ago, I listened and watched a video of a FARC member talking about the Peace Fund, I see that this person proposes not only exorbitant and unrealistic money figures for Colombia today – figures can be agreed upon –, but – based on this person's words – hatred between social classes and hatred to private entrepreneurship in general. I am not assuming this. This can be seen in a video uploaded in networks few days ago by someone from FARC.


We believe that the media must be accessible to all. We do want peace, but I admit I am afraid of the idea proposed by FARC of socializing the media. Chávez proposed this as well. And Chávez' media socialization policy ended up expropriating or gagging the opposition media or forcing the opposition to sell the media to the regime supporters. As a minority, I believe that we are entitled to raise this concern, dear citizens.


A plebiscite under the influence of weapons (that is, a political event under the influence of weapons) is being discussed. I must say that paramilitaries decommissioned almost 20,000 weapons. Mr. Pres.: if we are allowed to suggest that we are not intending to replace Mr. De la Calle, we would accept that, as long as FARC members actually decommission weapons, those weapons may be given to an international organization or another country, but not to UNASUR.


I wrote this, Mr. Pres. I know I am taking a lot of time from you. However, I do it to tell you that we do want peace, although we want to raise these concerns and propose choices. And I dare to propose them despite that we are a minority and it is not our intention to replace Mr. De la Calle.


We do want peace, but there is something we worried about regarding victims. Yes. That crime rate has decreased in Colombia has been said tonight. It has certainly decreased. Homicide rate continues to decrease. As of July 20, breaches of the truce and the most visible offenses have not occurred often. There are not illegal checkpoints on the roads. Infrastructure has not been destroyed. Some of our Army soldiers were murdered in an area where ELN and FARC operate. In order to favor the peace process, let us blame on the ELN, but not on the FARC.


I would say that most notorious crimes are now fewer. However, please allow me to state this: crime rates have not decreased due to actions taken by the State, but because of the truce by FARC. And this is a serious thing because our security is not depending on the State, but on the FARC calling a truce one day and breaking the truce the next day. Even though certain crime rate has decreased, other crime rate has increased. Rates related to drug trafficking, drug addiction related to it, blackmailing, and territory control have increased. In several areas in Colombia, people dare neither to report nor to rise up against blackmailing. They feel unprotected since no security policy exists. They prefer to pay for security. This is why we have defined a difference between the most visible crimes, whose rate has decreased, and the least visible crimes such as rearming, whose rate has increased.


If you please! Were illegally recruited children not supposed to be freed? In the town of El Orejón, (Antioquia, the department where I was born) where mine clearance is being conducted, FARC guerrillas continue to intimidate. Thus, who will trust in that mine clearance?


We do want peace, but we believe that, in order to reparate the victims, it must be ensured that FARC members give up all their dirty money.


Someone said tonight: “this peace process is aimed at preventing others who would die from dying.” If you please! An unstable peace process, for being based on both a plebiscite not providing a legal guarantee to it and rules that will set a bad example, will not provide the main assurance for victims that violence will not be repeated.


In reference to the agreements reached with the paramilitaries. I will give the text related thereto to the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, Mr. Pres. Álvaro Uribe is said not to have endorse them. However, they were made public. The thing is that neither the Constitution nor the Law were discussed.


Submitting to justice was the thing mentioned in the text of those agreements. When the paramilitaries concentrated in the Santa Fe de Ralito area for the peace process, the State reserved the right to apply Colombian laws in the event of crime. As a president, I never accepted that the State was ignored when a crime was reported.


I already said this in this plenary session, but I have to shamefully repeat myself: when alias ‘Don Berna’ was accused by a prosecutor or a judge of murdering a congressman from Córdoba, I immediately instructed the Head of the Colombian National Police to enter the place and arrest him. He was jailed and, thereafter, extradited.


What could we endorse if that was all about having criminals submitting to justice? What legal or constitutional reforms were being discussed there? What alleged impunity was there? Or what alleged rule reforms related to eligibility for politics were discussed there? However, this was widely known by the Colombian people and was applied to all.


Some continue to say “half of the caucus supporting Uribe Administration was selected by paramilitaries.” No one has ever said how many people were forced to submit themselves to the guerrillas. And please allow me to say this: I served as the President of Colombia with few congresspersons supporting me. And, in order to pass certain interesting bills (tax, administration, etc.), a larger caucus was created and voted for those bills, and there was a wide majority.


Well. In reference to the extradition I remember that, the night I ordered that extradition because crimes were still committed, both a minister of Defense who is the incumbent President of Colombia and the high military officers were there. And this then Minister of Defense is the same who, during the 2014 presidential election, said that we have extradited paramilitaries in order to prevent them from saying the truth because we had been allegedly blackmailed by them, which was repeated here tonight. Do you know what I am going to tell you, Mr. Pres.? I feel ashamed to confess this truth. Had we not extradited them considering the violence they were acting with from jail, they would have destroyed our country.


First, I ordered to transfer them from La Ceja prison to the maximum security prison in Itagüí because I was informed they were masterminding a jailbreak. And the maximum-security prison in Itagüí was not enough. Since I was informed that they continue to commit crimes while in jail and afraid of the harm to Colombia, I decided to extradite them. Do you know what compromise was reached with United States? We agreed that they could fully access, not the Colombian Government or justice, but the State. This has helped my harshest critics approached them to find out on what charges they may blame on me. If you please! The facts prove that, by that extradition, there was no intention to hide any truth at all. Nevertheless, what can I claim in the Senate if the President of the Republic of Colombia himself, who was the then Minister of Defense, said such a thing?


In reference to ‘El Tuso’ Sierra, if you please, the Senate is not a gossip room! At least, we should be respectful of this place. There is an upright man in exile whose name is Luis Carlos Restrepo. During those peace talks, paramilitaries expressed their demands. I was surprised that many drug traffickers, such as alias ‘Don Berna’, purported to be paramilitaries. However, even ‘El Tuso’ Sierra purported to be a paramilitary. Paramilitaries were the ones who demanded that ‘El Tuso’ Sierra was allowed to submit himself to the Justice and Peace Act because, according to them, he was one of them. In the end, we extradited him. I am saddened to hear tonight that Sen. Mario Uribe Escobar, my second cousin, received money to approach me to ask me to include ‘El Tuso’ Sierra as one of the individuals who would submit themselves to the Justice and Peace Act.


Other senators who were accused of that and never asked me to do such a thing are in jail. Neither Sen. Mario Uribe nor those senators asked me to do such a thing. It is unpleasant to bring up so personal details, but I feel forced to do so because of what has been said here tonight.


Do you know what Colombians should not forget? During Pastrana Administration, guerrillas demanded two conditions to make progress in the peace talks: to have the paramilitaries dismantled and, when I was a University student some years before, to have mayors and governors be elected by people. Still, both demands were met. During Betancur Administration, the demand of having mayors be elected by people was met. During Gaviria Administration, who called a National Constituent Assembly, the demand of having governors be elected by people was met. During my administration, we dismantled the paramilitaries. And I astonishingly wondered: why no progress is made by them towards a peace compromise?


That peace process was said to be poorly conducted. Well, I do not understand. First, that peace process was said to be poorly conducted and, thereafter, was said to be very useful for Colombia. Just 7% of the 53,000 demobilized individuals at that time, including paramilitaries and guerrillas, recidivated. Bacrims were composed of 2,400 people when I ended my administration. Why have they been allowed to grow?


As well as a generous policy must exist to favor those who honor the reintegration conditions, there must be a very strict policy to punish those who do not honor them.


Mr. De la Calle said here that there are neither risks against private entrepreneurs nor risks against the Rule of Law. Nonetheless, if one hears FARC proposals, it is clear that both risks exist. We do want peace, but we do not want those risks. I wonder: Did FARC guerrillas abandoned all their ideology? Did FARC guerrillas abandoned their neo-Marxist platform of adhering to Chavism? Do entrepreneurs trust in this? Is Mr. De la Calle convinced of this and coming here to convince us? Why?


Chávez stated many times in Venezuela that he was not a Marxist and he would respect the Rule of Law. He even told us about this during a conference in Oxford University in late 1998 as President-elect.


If you please! We are asking that peace compromises are endorsed by discerning things! Why topics are not separated? Senator Benedetti: Would that be so serious? Why a reasonable threshold is not considered, especially to ensure stability for the peace process? Please think of what the Atty. Gen. said two weeks ago by implying amendments thereto, resulting in instability risks for the peace deal agreed with the M19 25 years ago.


We do not accept to be told that either voting 'no' to the plebiscite or abstaining means voting for war. Why do some believe so? The plebiscite will easily succeed in the amount of votes. The word 'peace' will easily succeed for being captivating. The plebiscite will easily succeed. However, what can happen in reference to that threshold and the idea of encompassing topics? Why are we being told that we are voting for war by abstaining from voting the plebiscite? Why this dilemma is raised for consideration of Colombian people, even of FARC?


If FARC members listen to what we are saying here, we want everyone to know that we do not agree with the plebiscite, but agree with peace. Why not to consider a different plebiscite or a referendum or a restricted constituent assembly where people can discern things and discuss the peace deals? Why are we, like many Colombians who resist impunity, not allowed to raise our concerns and to propose ideas, although we are a minority?


Upon listening tonight to Sen. Barreras, I said “this is a corrupted plebiscite due to consent and coercion” because we are being told “if you do not approve it, you want war.” Be careful!


Someone said here tonight that (François) Hollande went back to the right wing or move to the right wing due to the events occurred in Paris. Security is neither a left-wing nor a right-wing thing. Security is a democratic principle.


We do want peace, but why do we have to discuss the opposition statute with FARC? Senator Serpa, senator Jorge Robledo, and others made up opposition to me. Even, I believe that, if the opposition statute is to be discussed, it should not necessarily be discussed with us, the opposition. It should be discussed with those who have been the opposition under the democratic institutionalism; but, let us not confuse opposition with crime. Why do we have to discuss the opposition statute with FARC?


Furthermore, I think that, under democracy, an opposition statute should not be discussed because the opposition rights are of the essence for democracy.


Peace compromises are not known yet. We are “saddling up without horses.” I would like to tell you, animalists, that I love animals so much that I do not call them beasts. So, the method for endorsing what we do not know yet is being discussed. At least, we should be informed of what we are going to vote. And this is occurring once due to this exceptional peace talks circumstance. What is going to happen with the ELN thereafter? Crime is changing when not punished. What is going to happen with the demands expressed by Bacrims?


Castro used to say that a ruler should not call elections if they are not under his control and their results are not secured by him. Chávez applied this very well. Why not making some amendments to this plebiscite so that a sort of Castrist democracy is not reflected here?


I agree with Ferrajoli. Please do not tell him that I agree with him because he hates me. Nevertheless, I do agree with the idea that peace should not be voted because everybody wants it. Who does not want peace?


I have been a victim of several terrorist attacks. I am a survivor. I am not invoking that. I do want peace for future generations. My family has spent their life in violence-dominated areas. I know how it feels. What is the use of having us vote for peace, which we all support, if the actual intention is having us vote for impunity and other topics that should not be voted?


Mr. Pres.: I apologize for taking so long. I made various proposals. I ask you, Mr. Pres., Sen. Serpa, Sen. Benedetti, and other leaders supporting the Government on the plebiscite, to think about it. I ask you, Ms. Sen. López, to think about this as well despite that, from your words, one can infer that these proposals are forbidden. We are humbly suggesting them as a minority, without trying to usurp upon the Government's rights, but in a constructive manner.


Thank you, Mr. Pres. of the Senate.


(The end)