Last Updated:7/8/04
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The Uribe government and NGOs

September 8, 2003

  • Eighty Colombian non-governmental organizations release a document, El Embrujo Autoritario ("The Authoritarian Curse") criticizing the performance of President Álvaro Uribe and his thirteen-month-old government.
    • Link the text of El Embrujo Autoritario (en español)

  • Uribe lashes out at Colombia's human rights groups in a speech before armed forces members gathered for the inauguration of new Air Force Chief Gen. Edgar Lésmez. Lésmez replaced Gen. Fabio Velasco, who faced allegations of blocking human rights investigations and, by many accounts, was forced to resign in part by US pressure.

    Uribe calls human rights groups, among other things, "spokesmen for terrorism" and "politickers of terrorism." He challenges them to "take off their masks ... and drop this cowardice of hiding their ideas behind human rights." Uribe's speech distinguishes between serious human rights groups and "politickers," but fails to explain how he makes this distinction.
  • US Ambassador William Wood and US Defense Attaché Col. William Graves join Gen. Lésmez at his inauguration ceremony (AFP photo)
    While some of Uribe's advisors and supporters had faced criticism for making similar unsubstantiated and dangerous statements, Uribe himself had avoided using such language during his campaign and during his first year in office. In fact, his government's "Democratic Security" document, released in June 2003, emphasizes the need to "protect opposition political leaders and dissidents, thereby securing the democratic framework and possibilities for citizen participation." A July 2003 Defense Ministry directive instructs members of the security forces "to abstain from making unfounded declarations that could threaten the safety of union leaders or human rights defenders."
    • April 2003 CIP memorandum on comments made by Uribe associates
    • Human Rights Watch, Letter to President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, April 2003 (external link)
    • June 2003 "Democratic Security" document (Adobe Acrobat [.pdf] format; en español)
    • Directiva 09, Defense Ministry of Colombia, July 2003 (Adobe Acrobat [.pdf] format; en español)

  • French Supreme Court Magistrate Philippe Texier, on a visit to Colombia, warns that stigmatizing human rights organizations is "dangerous," as it "subjects people to danger of death." He adds that such methods have been used in Colombia's past and "it is unfortunate that they have appeared again."
September 8: Links to press coverage

September 9, 2003

  • Responding to the NGOs' September 8 report, Armed Forces Chief Gen. Jorge Mora accuses groups of "using human rights for political purposes in order to survive. Their accusations don't worry us."


    • Statement from CIP and three other U.S. organizations, September 9, 2003 [English | Español]
    • Statement from Amnesty International (en español)
    • Statement from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) (en español)
    • Statement from the European Union (en español)
    • Statement from the Plataforma Colombiana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo (en español)
    • Statement from Permant Assembly of Civil Society for Peace (en español)
    • Statement from Popular Training Institute (IPC - Medellín, Colombia) (en español)
    • Statement from Colombian Confederation of NGOs (en español)
    • Press release from Colombian Defense Ministry (external link, en español)
    • Comments from NGO and political leaders, cited in El Tiempo (Colombia) (en español)
September 9: Links to press coverage

September 10, 2003

  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) denounces Uribe's words in a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. "We know that when high government and military officials start labeling civilian leaders and organizations as 'terrorists' or 'sympathizers,' their deaths soon follow."
September 10: Links to press coverage Essays and analysis
  • Colombian President Angers Activists
    Kim Housego
    Associated Press
    The Kansas City Star
    Human rights defenders, accused by President Alvaro Uribe of being allied with terrorists for criticizing his crackdown on leftist rebels, denounced his comments
  • Colombia head 'endangers NGOs'
    BBC (UK)
    Human rights activists in Colombia say President Alvaro Uribe is endangering their lives by accusing them of sympathising with terrorism
  • Denuncia de Uribe abre feroz polémica
    El Nuevo Herald
    Un discurso del presidente de Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, en el que criticó enérgicamente a Organizaciones No Gubernamentales (ONGs) de derechos humanos, generó ayer una aguda polémica y rechazo de organismos como Amnistía Internacional

September 11, 2003

  • Just as the furor over Uribe's remarks begins to die down, the president uses the same language during a visit to Chita, Boyacá, where a FARC bomb attached to a horse had killed several people the day before. "My commitment is with you, not with those who have lived by defending and giving consent to the terrorists, those people's honeymoon is over. My commitment is with you, it doesn't matter what the terrorists' defenders say."
  • In Brussels, European Union foreign affairs spokesman Diego de Ojeda expressed "concern" for possible "tragic consequences" of the president's words.

  • Defense Minister Marta Lucía Ramírez, on a visit to Washington, says the Colombian government will soon begin investigating about 1,300 NGOs throughout the country. "In the next few months the Vice President's office will be much more active in this area to know where these problems are. The idea is to avoid allowing people to take advantage of the NGO label to act as apologists for actions that nobody supports."

    The next day, Vice President Francisco Santos contradicts the defense minister's statement. "We're not going to examine these NGOs," he tells the Colombian daily El Tiempo. "The truth is, we have no plan to examine them at this moment. We have regular communication with them. We're talking to them. We want this fluid dialogue to continue."

  • The vice president invites several NGO leaders to his home for dinner. His guests refuse the food, and participants describe the meeting as tense and unproductive.

  • Great Britain's ambassador to Colombia, Tom Duggin, says that NGOs "misinterpreted" Uribe's remarks, adding that European governments' view of Colombia is improving because "some European NGOs are doing a bad job of presenting guerrilla propaganda against Colombia's governments."


    • Press release from Colombian non-governmental organizations attending the seminar "Colombia insists on human rights"
    • Statement of Human Rights Watch Americas Division Director José Miguel Vivanco (en español)
September 11: Links to press coverage Essays and analysis
  • ONU y UE apoyan a defensores
    El Tiempo (Colombia)
    Ayer continuaron las criticas a los señalamientos que el Presidente les hizo a las ONG de derechos humanos
  • De póquer y balas
    Mauricio Pombo
    El Tiempo (Colombia)
    Hay cartas sucias en la policía y póqueres siniestros en el ejército. Pero muchas ONG no están jugando limpio y esto puede terminar, una vez más, en balacera

September 12, 2003


  • Statement of the International Human Rights Federation (FIDH) and World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) (en español)
  • Statement of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) (en español)
September 12: Links to press coverage Essays and analysis
  • Uribe insiste en críticas a las ONG
    El Tiempo (Colombia)
    Tres días después de su duro discurso en la Fuerza Aérea Colombiana, el presidente Álvaro Uribe aprovechó ayer su visita a Chita (Boyacá) para insistir en sus críticas a las Organizaciones No Gubernamentales
  • 'Vamos a revisar 1.300 ONG'
    El Tiempo (Colombia)
    El gobierno colombiano comenzará a mirar con cuidado quiénes son y qué hacen en el país más de 1.300 ONG de Derechos Humanos, anunció ayer en Washington la ministra de Defensa
  • Imprudencia, ira o demagogia
    Oscar Collazos
    El Tiempo (Colombia)
    Amparado en su enorme popularidad, en la naturaleza irracional de una popularidad que lo convierte en salvador providencial de un país sin norte, el Presidente muestra el corazón blando a quienes lo aplauden, reservándose la mano dura para quienes disienten

September 13, 2003

  • An unnamed U.S. State Department source tells the Colombian daily El Tiempo that President Uribe's verbal attack on NGOs could make it harder to sell future military aid packages to a Congress that includes many skeptics. "This isn't helping us at all," the source says.
September 13: Links to press coverage
  • Rechazan en E.U. críticas a ONG
    Sergio Gómez Maseri
    El Tiempo (Colombia)
    Funcionario del Departamento del Estado comenta que si crece el ataque a esas organizaciones, el respaldo que las cámaras legislativas le prestan a Colombia podría verse erosionado
  • Cena no logró aplacar tensión
    El Tiempo (Colombia)
    La cena organizada el jueves por el vicepresidente Francisco Santos para bajar los ánimos que generaron las palabras del presidente Uribe contra las Organizaciones No Gubernamentales

September 14, 2003

  • NGO representatives hold a two-hour meeting in Bogotá with James LeMoyne, the UN Secretary-General's special representative for Colombia. According to the account of one group's director, Lemoyne expressed "his profound concern with the polarization that has followed the president's comments."


  • Interview with Susan Lee, Latin America director, Amnesty International, El Colombiano (Medellín, Colombia) (en español)
September 14: Links to press coverage Essays and analysis
  • Con la piedra afuera
    Cambio (Colombia)
    La salida de casillas del Presidente frente a algunas ONG desvió el debate sobre derechos humanos y menoscabó la imagen de Uribe en el exterior
  • La ira presidencial
    Semana (Colombia)
    El discurso de Alvaro Uribe contra las ONG indica que la línea más dura gana espacio en el gobierno

  • En boca cerrada no entran moscas
    Eduardo Pizarro Leongómez
    El Tiempo (Colombia)
    El verdadero debate debería ser si los informes de las ONG de derechos humanos son serios, ponderados y rigurosos

  • Los damnificados de Uribe
    El Tiempo (Colombia)
    El vicepresidente Santos, la canciller Barco y los consejeros Bula y Franco, al igual que las ONG, también salieron perdiendo
  • Un país de tuertos
    Héctor Abad
    Semana (Colombia)
    Tal vez sea inevitable que existan ONG tuertas. Lo que sí hay que evitar es que el gobierno (siendo el gobierno de todos los colombianos) se vuelva tuerto también
  • ¿Es posible regular a las ONG?
    Andrés Franco
    Semana (Colombia)
    Andrés Franco, internacionalista y actual representante de Unicef en el Perú, escribe sobre la necesidad de discutir pausadamente si conviene regular o no a las ONG
  • La termocefalia del Presidente
    María Elvira Samper
    Cambio (Colombia)
    Con sus salidas de ropa cada vez más frecuentes, Uribe alimenta a sus opositores, que lo critican por soberbio, autoritario e intolerante
  • Tentaciones peligrosas
    Mauricio Vargas
    Cambio (Colombia)
    Lo grave es que nadie se atreve a decirle al Presidente que no, que se equivoca, que recapacite en tal o cual caso
  • Rectificación Necesaria
    Gustavo Gallón Giraldo
    El Espectador (Colombia)
    Declarar la guerra a las organizaciones no gubernamentales, como lo ha hecho el Presidente, no es sensato, aunque algunas personas lo respalden
  • La Crítica Social de la Arbitrariedad
    Iván Cepeda Castro
    El Espectador (Colombia)
    La protección de los derechos humanos es la oposición pública a todo acto de arbitrariedad o negligencia que atente contra las normas y prácticas que garantizan la dignidad de la persona

September 15, 2003

  • President Uribe writes a letter in response to an El Tiempo op-ed by analyst Eduardo Pizarro. Pizarro's piece called Uribe's words a "serious error," but also criticized the quality of human rights NGOs' work. Uribe responds, "Of course, if the tone of my words offends some sensibilities, they will be offered apologies for the tone; but in the defense of Colombians' security we will not have any weaknesses."
    • Letter from President Alvaro Uribe to columnist Eduardo Pizarro (en español)

  • Foreign Minister Carolina Barco acknowledges that Uribe's attack on NGOs may make diplomacy in Europe more difficult. "I have asked our ambassadors to explain to other governments the fairness of the president's words in order to avoid more confusion that could do more damage to the country."


  • Los defensores de derechos humanos en la mira, por el Banco de Datos de Derechos Humanos y Violencia Política en Colombia (external link, en español)
  • Colombia Support Network statement
  • Letter to President Uribe from Colombian scholars and artists, September 15, 2003 (en español)
September 15: Links to press coverage Essays and analysis
  • Intelectuales le envían carta a Uribe
    El Tiempo (Colombia)
    Le piden al Presidente que no trate a los defensores de derechos humanos y sus contradictores políticos e ideológicos "como sus enemigos".
  • Ni el yoga, ni las gotitas...
    María Jimena Duzán
    El Tiempo (Colombia)
    Ojalá el Presidente descanse algún día y le quede tiempo para pensar, pensar y pensar

September 16, 2003


  • La Importancia de la Protección y Defensa de los Defensores de los Derechos Humanos, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bogotá Office (external link, en español)
September 16: Links to press coverage Essays and analysis
  • Defensores de derechos humanos amenazados por el presidente Uribe
    Agencia de Noticias Nueva Colombia
    Los activistas de derechos humanos colombianos están en peligro de muerte después que el presidente Uribe declaró que están vinculados a "organizaciones terroristas".
  • International condemnation of Colombian president
    Alfredo Castro
    Agencia de Noticias Nueva Colombia
    Organisations including the UN, the European Union and a whole host of international and Colombian human rights bodies have severely criticized president Alvaro Uribe Velez for his recent attacks on civil society groups

September 17, 2003

September 17: Essays and analysis
  • Las polémicas ONG
    Enoris Restrepo Martínez
    El Colombiano (Medellín, Colombia)
    Eran de esperarse las reacciones de las ONG y de los grupos de izquierda a las políticas de seguridad de Álvaro Uribe
  • Una pelea mal casada
    Daniel Samper Pizano
    El Tiempo (Colombia)
    Atacar a las ONG es el más grave error del Presidente en lo que va de gobierno
  • Uribe amenaza a las ONG en Colombia
    Adrián Carmona
    El pasado 8 de septiembre, en un discurso con motivo de la posesión del nuevo general de la fuerza aérea, el presidente colombiano Álvaro Uribe acusó a muchas de las ONGs que trabajan en Colombia de ser fachadas del terrorismo

September 19, 2003

September 19: Essays and analysis
  • Realidad y ficción de las ONG
    Alvaro Valencia Tovar
    El Tiempo (Colombia)
    El Presidente habló para el país. Su rechazo se dirigió a las organizaciones colombianas que hacen de la bandera de los derechos humanos un arma política de indudable efectividad
  • El clon de Fujimori
    Carlos Lozano
    Agencia de Noticias Nueva Colombia
    No sólo es una muestra de intemperancia del presidente Álvaro Uribe Vélez, sino más bien groseras acusaciones que nada tienen que ver con el estilo de un estadista y del manejo de las relaciones con los gobernados
  • El presidente Uribe y las Organizaciones No Gubernamentales
    Alberto Mesa Vallejo
    El Colombiano (Medellín, Colombia)
    Ante la posición radical, condenatoria del Estado, de permanente denuncia y confrontación con el gobierno nacional, que han asumido algunas ONG, el pueblo colombiano debe rodear integralmente al señor Presidente

September 23, 2003

  • Nineteen members of the U.S. Congress sign a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, written by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois, pictured), asking him "to make a strong public statement dissociating the United States from President Uribe's remarks."
    • Letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 19 members of the U.S. Congress, September 23, 2003

September 30, 2003

  • Four U.S. Senate Democrats - Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Russell Feingold (D-Wisconsin) and John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) - write a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell asking that he "direct the United States Ambassador to Colombia to issue a public statement expressing concern with President Uribe's remarks."
    • Letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 4 members of the U.S. Senate, September 30, 2003

October 22, 2003

  • Sen. Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sends a letter to President Uribe. "I am deeply troubled about your comments, and their potential effect on the safety of human rights defenders in your country, and those working for international organizations who may travel to Colombia," the letter states.
    • [Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format] Letter to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe from Sen. Joseph Biden, October 22, 2003

December 31, 2003

  • In a letter to Colombian human rights groups who had asked President Uribe for either an apology or an explanation of which groups he was talking about, the president's office refuses to do either. "The messages of the President of the Republic in public venues on September 8 and 11, 2003, are the expression of the political opinions of the Commander-in-Chief who, as head of state and head of government, is constitutionally authorized to do so. That is, to serve as an inspiration to Colombians or simply, to create a general public opinion. ... As this is part of the legitimate exercise of political power by the head of state and government and the constitutional symbol of national unity, there is no reason for any rectification."
    • [English | Español [Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format]] Letter from Armando López Cortes, legal secretary to President Uribe, to Colombian human rights NGOs, December 31, 2003

February 9, 2004

  • Amnesty International releases a statement prior to President Uribe's visit to Europe urging the EU to refrain from supporting policies that risk exacerbating Colombia's human rights crisis.
  • Human Rights Watch releases a similar statement, asking the European Union to postpone a donors' conference planned for later this year until Colombia fulfills key human rights commitments.

February 10, 2004

  • Meeting with European Parliament officials in Strasbourg, President Uribe singles out the Colectivo de Abogados "José Alvear Restrepo", a prominent Colombian human rights group: "If the gentlemen of the Colectivo de Abogados wish to be lawyers for the terrorists, they can exercise that right, but to do that they do not need to hide themselves behind human rights organizations."

February 12, 2004

  • An "editorial" on the website of the Bloque Central Bolívar paramilitary group claims that Colombian NGOs and the FARC are conspiring with European groups to sabotage President Uribe's visit. The paramilitaries claim that anti-Uribe protests show "the hand of the guerrilla 'diplomacy' of the FARC, whose presence in some European countries is a matter of public knowledge."
    • [Español] Editorial from the Bloque Central Bolívar

May 27, 2004

  • While hosting a "security council" in the Urabá region of Antioquia department in northern Colombia, Uribe issues a harsh warning to foreign human rights workers from Peace Brigades International (PBI) and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) who are in the region accompanying besieged communities. "I want to remind the foreigners in San José de Apartadó that in Colombia there is not, nor can there be, impunity for either Colombians or for foreigners," Uribe says. "If you come here, come here to help our communities, not to obstruct justice. I reiterate to the police: if these [foreign human rights observers] continue to obstruct justice, put them in prison. If they have to be deported, deport them."
    • [Español] Coverage of Uribe's comments on the Colombian presidency's website
    • Americas.org background paper
    • [Español] Rechazo a las declaraciones del presidente Uribe contra la Comunidad de Paz por Corporación Jurídica Libertad (link to IndyMedia Colombia)

June 14, 2004

  • FARC members kill 34 coca growers in La Gabarra, in the conflictive Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department. This is the largest massacre since President Alvaro Uribe took office.

June 16, 2004

  • During a ceremony for the promotion of officers in the National Police, President Uribe criticizes NGOs, specifically Amnesty International, for failing to denounce the La Gabarra massacre within the 28 hours since the event took place. He accuses the humanitarian groups of condemning "state terrorism," but then remaining silent when "the terrorist act is committed by a terrorist organization with whom the respective NGO may have ideological agreement."

June 17, 2004

  • Amnesty International responds, condemning the La Gabarra attack and President Uribe's statements.
  • Meanwhile, forty-six U.S. and Canadian non-governmental organizations issue a letter President Uribe in response to Uribe's May 27th attack on PBI and FOR in San José de Apartadó
    • [Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format] Letter from 46 U.S. and Canadian NGOs

June 18, 2004

  • An unnamed high-ranking State Department spokesperson gives a declaration to Colombia's most-circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, distancing the United States from President Uribe's attack on Amnesty International. "We are not at all in agreement with those statements. It is our view that human rights NGOs that gain international respect make significant and important international contributions in Colombia and other countries."
    • [Español] "Estados Unidos no comparte términos de Álvaro Uribe contra Amnistía Internacional," El Tiempo (Colombia)

June 22, 2004

  • Thirteen U.S. NGOs issue a letter condemning the La Gabarra massacre and reiterating concerns about President Uribe's attacks on human rights defenders.
    • [Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format] Letter from thirteen U.S. NGOs

June 25, 2004

  • Sixty members of the U.S. House of Representatives sign a letter to President Uribe expressing concern over his May 27 comments about human rights defenders in Urabá.
    • Letter from sixty U.S. Representatives

July 4, 2004

  • In an interview with the Colombian newsweekly Cambio, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Wood criticizes President Uribe for his comments, saying "We do not agree with what the President said. The NGOs have done important work all over the world. But we also understand the occasional frustration of the Colombian government, and we do not always agree with what the NGOs say. … However, I am convinced that the government's vision of what Colombia could be in the future is the same as that of the NGOs. I do not think that the President's comments help the interests of anyone."
    • [Español] "'La agenda de las Auc es el narcoterrorismo,'" Cambio (Colombia)
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