After ‘glorifying violence’ on Twitter, former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe to speak at NYU event

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Former Colombian president (2002-2010) and senator Alvaro Uribe Velez (C), listens while his attorney Jaime Granados (R) answers questions during a press conference at his residence in Rionegro, Antioquia department, Colombia on July 30, 2018, after he resigned from the Senate and was formally placed under investigation by the Colombian Supreme Court for alleged bribery and fraud.

  • Former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe has been invited to speak at a New York University event.
  • Uribe has been linked to right-wing paramilitary groups and accused of inciting violence against protesters.
  • “Why give this man another platform?” one student critic asked.
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In power, former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe was accused of collaborating with death squads that slaughtered peasant farmers and union organizers. More recently, online, he was found to be “glorifying violence” against protesters during a week of unrest that saw more than a dozen people killed.

Now, this week, he will be sharing “his journey and insights in pursuit of citizen and environmental security” at a virtual event hosted by The John Brademas Center at New York University’s campus in Washington, DC.

It’s a curious choice, Adam Isacson, an expert on Colombia at the Washington Office on Latin America, told Insider. Uribe is currently under investigation for bribing right-wing paramilitary groups to lie about one of his leftist political rivals; he was under house arrest last year. And his years as head of state, from 2002 to 2010, saw a major expansion of environmentally destructive mining operations, as well as attacks on those defending the land.

“Maybe they should have a whole series of ‘human rights violators discuss things they never really worked on,'” Isacson said.

NYU insists the May 5 event is not an endorsement. James Devitt, a spokesperson for the university, said in a statement to Insider that “we anticipate a robust exchange on President Uribe’s tenure and the larger issue of sustainability, both among the panelists and during our question-and-answer session.” He also said the school “expects the protests in Colombia – and the former president’s views on them – to be a topic.”

But critics say the center’s panel, with no participants from the South American nation, is ill-equipped for a nuanced, and necessarily confrontational, discussion of a Colombian president’s record in power. And many Colombians do not want a dialogue with their former head of state; they say they would prefer a criminal indictment.

In a letter to the Brademas Center, the group Madres Falsos Positivos de Colombia – mothers whose unarmed children were among the thousands killed by security forces during Uribe’s reign and falsely labeled guerilla fighters – were indignant.

“We do not understand how it is possible that academic centers of such renown have such a level of ignorance of the nefarious social, environmental, economic, cultural and political consequences left by the government of Álvaro Uribe in our country and in the region,” they wrote.

Nor is his contribution to state violence all behind him. In recent days, Colombia has been rocked by street protests over the policies of President Iván Duque Márquez, a member of the same conservative party, Democratic Center, founded by Uribe. Sparked by a proposed tax hike, the protests have morphed into a broader indictment of poverty and an inadequate social safety net.

Uribe, on social media, has inflamed the situation. “Let’s support the right of soldiers and police to use their firearms to defend their integrity and to defend people and property from criminal acts of terrorist vandalism,” he wrote in a post that Twitter later removed for “glorifying violence.”

Isacson said what Uribe posts online has an impact in the real world.

“Like a lot of right-wing figures around the world, he has a lot of admirers in his country’s security forces – far more than President Duque would have. So what Uribe says certainly reverberates throughout the officer corps in both the military and police,” Isacson said.

At least 18 people have been reported killed and dozens more have gone missing during the unrest, which has seen security forces repeatedly open fire on unarmed protesters, eliciting condemnations from the United Nations and US lawmakers.

Melody Feo Sverko, a graduate student at NYU from Bogotá, likens Uribe’s speaking engagement to “having Donald Trump show up to talk about how great your immigration policy is,” and treated as an elder statesman – after he incited a riot at the US Capitol. She is a part of a group of Colombians, academics, and allies who have been urging NYU to rethink the event.

A petition sent to the school, now with more than 5,500 signatures, argues against the idea that having a former president talk is part of a university’s commitment to hosting free and open dialogue, often with controversial speakers. This, signatories maintain, is not a civil debate but the use of a university forum “to echo a single perspective.”

“With concern, we note the absence of other voices,” the letter states.

Feo Sverko hopes NYU reconsiders.

“It’s tone deaf, it’s insensitive – it makes no sense,” she told Insider. “Uribe had his post taken down on Twitter for inciting violence against civilian protesters. Why give this man another platform?”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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Biden grants Temporary Protected Status to as many as 320,000 Venezuelans living in the US

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A man from Venezuela seeking asylum in the United States holds his daughter at the entrance to the Paso del Norte International Bridge after the news that the Migrant Protection Protocols program was halted on February 28, 2020, in Ciudad Juárez.

  • The Biden administration is granting Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans.
  • Venezuelans are the leading group of asylum-seekers. About 320,000 are eligible for TPS.
  • TPS protects recipients from the threat of deportation.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Venezuelans who have fled economic devastation and political repression will no longer have to fear deportation from the United States, the Biden administration announced Monday, fulfilling one of the president’s campaign promises.

An estimated 320,000 Venezuelans in the US are now eligible for Temporary Protected Status, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times. TPS is granted to nationals from countries where it would be unsafe to return.

Venezuela has been in an economic and political freefall since the collapse of oil prices in 2014, exacerbated by rank corruption and, since 2019, US sanctions on the country’s all-important petroleum sector. That has led to an exodus from the country – 5.4 million people, according to the United Nations, or nearly 20% of its population – with the vast majority settling elsewhere in South America, namely Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

But tens of thousands have also made it to the US. Fom fiscal years 2017 to 2019, the Department of Homeland Security reported that Venezuelans were by far the largest group of asylum-seekers, averaging more than 25,000 per year and exceeding the number from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, combined.

In its formal designation, DHS says Venezuelans are receiving protected status due to the “severe economic crisis” back home, as well as “a prolonged political crisis” sparked by President Nicolas Maduro’s disputed victory in the country’s 2018 election and effective dissolution of its democratically elected legislature.

To apply for TPS, Venezuelans will need to pay $135 in fees and another $410 for a work permit, The Miami Herald reported. Those who enter the US on or after March 8 are ineligible.

The announcement comes days after Colombia, home to nearly 2 million Venezuelan migrants, granted those refugees legal status for the next decade.

Juan Escalante, an undocumented immigrant from Venezuela and digital campaigns manager at FWD.us, which advocates for criminal justice and immigration reform, said he was relieved by the news.

“The chaos, turmoil, and political unrest that has consumed my native homeland of Venezuela is heartbreaking,” he said in a statement, “and the idea that more than 300,000 Venezuelans who have been living in and contributing to the US could be deported to a country where their lives and freedoms would be threatened is terrifying.”

While the last administration claimed to support Venezuelans, it continued to deport them back to a country that it publicly condemned as violent and authoritarian. It was only on January 19, a day before leaving office, that the former president offered legal protections to some 94,000 Venezuelans.

“This shows solidarity with the over 5 million Venezuelans that have fled the country,” Geoff Ramsey, director for Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America, a DC think tank, told Insider. He urged the administration to “go even further,” however, and pressure its allies in South America to increase social services for the Venezuelan diaspora elsewhere.

“Far too many other countries have backtracked on their commitments to fleeing Venezuelans,” he said.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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