A few days ago we received news of the passing of an extraordinary Colombian statesmen, Carlos Gaviria Diaz. My wife and I met Carlos several years ago when he attended and spoke at a conference on Latin American politics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. We spoke with him on several occasions thereafter. I had the good fortune to meet with him with a delegation of the Colombia Support Network from Central New York State in his office when he was running for President against Alvaro Uribe Velez as the candidate of the Polo Democratico Party. Another time he came to meet with a delegation at the Hotel Centro Internacional in Bogota, where we were staying.
On all of these occasions Carlos graciously discussed his views on Colombian political developments patiently and sensibly. In his career as professor of law at the Universidad de Antioquia, as President of the Constitutional Court, and as Presidential candidate and later President of the Polo Democratico Party, Carlos displayed a commitment to the truth and the highest ethical standards. Throughout his career, indeed throughout his life, Carlos always represented the perfect model of what a statesman should be. His extraordinary combination of keen intelligence, a broad world view, and the highest ethical standards made him for us an unfailing reference point for the very best of Colombia. When in 2006 he decided to run for President against his former law school student, Alvaro Uribe Velez, we were hopeful that he would win and bring an end to the corruption of a political system that has long served the interests of a narrow elite and of multinational businesses at the expense of the great majority of Colombians. He received over 2.6 million votes, many more than any candidate of the left had received previously—and more than any has received since. But he finished second to Alvaro Uribe Velez. However, instead of falling silent and disappearing from public view, Carlos continued to speak out against corruption in government and in favor of human rights and a decent life for all Colombians. He was the pride of his party, the Polo Democratico, an unfailing reference point for the politics of hope, generosity and honesty in government. And his term as President of the Constitutional Court and his clear, consistent, and courageous decisions are a model for lawyers and courts everywhere.
Those of us who were privileged to know him are much the better for having had this opportunity. We often consider how Colombia’s history would have been different if this remarkable man had won his race against Alvaro Uribe Velez. A commitment to human rights and an end to paramilitarism; no more abject obedience to the dictates of the Washington Consensus; a social safety net and progressive measures to give a voice and a share to the multitudes of Colombians excluded from participation in the economic, political and social benefits of the country. But even though Carlos Gaviria did not win election as President, the example of his life, and his ideas, should sustain us in a continued commitment to seek justice and fairness for all Colombians.