By Rodrigo Uprimny, Dejusticia, October 1, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
“Response by Rodrigo Uprimny to stigmatizing messages from ex-President Álvaro Uribe about a previous column related to responsibility for the false positives.”
This week I have been the object of serious stigmatization by Álvaro Uribe, because of my most recent column, wherein I maintained that the ex-President had a clear moral and political, and possibly even a criminal responsibility as commander, for the false positives during his administration. That is because of the murders of thousands of poor young people who were deceived and kidnapped by members of Colombia’s Armed Forces, and then presented as guerrillas killed in combat.
The ex-President tweeted, for example, that because of my positions, I “could be one of the people morally and politically responsible for terrorism,” which is a false accusation. Even in my youth, I adhered to a morality of moderation in means, even to attain a worthwhile end. I believe that just as there are ends which, because they are evil, don’t justify the use of any means, there are means that, because of their disproportion and cruelty, using them cannot be justified, even to obtain the noblest ends. That’s why I have condemned the kidnappings by the guerrillas, the massacres by the paramilitaries, and the false positives by the government, no matter the ends for which these actors have tried to justify such atrocities. You can’t find in any of my columns or in my academic writing, any affirmation or analysis that could imply a justification for terrorist acts.
In an academic and quiet environment, those stigmatizations wouldn’t mean much, even if they were based on truthful statements (which is not the case with the accusations against me by the ex-President), as they would be dismissed for being an ad-hominem fallacy, that consists in discrediting an argument by attacking the one who makes the statement, instead of countering the substance of the argument. That is unacceptable, because a person can have profound moral defects, but his argument, or his criticism could be impeccable. I could be a terrible person, but that doesn’t automatically invalidate my argument about ex-President Uribe’s responsibility for the false positives.
Nevertheless, in the political setting, and especially in a country as polarized and violent as Colombia, those stigmatizations take on another dimension, given that those attacks by officials, politicians, or powerful people against a person who criticizes them or points out their responsibilities are attempting, and often achieving, at least three things: 1) intimidating them, as these stigmatizations in Colombia have led to assaults and violent acts; 2) delegitimizing the opponent by identifying supposed defects in his character or hypothetical conflicts of interest that invalidate his criticism or complaint; and 3) side-tracking public attention and making it look as if the debate is not centered on the responsibilities of the official or politician, but rather on the supposed moral problems of the journalist or citizen who denounces or criticizes.
Those stigmatizations by the powerful thus have profound anti-democratic effects, as they muddy the waters of the public discussion and silence criticism and the opposition. That also interferes with control by citizens or the press of the abuses, errors, or responsibilities of the politicians and public employees. We have to resist that. And that’s why I am enormously thankful for the rejection I have seen of these stigmatizations against me by ex-President Uribe. I am overwhelmed and much comforted by all of this support, even that of people with whom I’ve had controversies and important ideological differences. I understand those not only as personal solidarity, but also as a more global defense of freedom of expression and of citizen control over the authorities. Those are rights that go to the heart of democracy, and they always show a determination to achieve greater decency in public debate, which is something that Colombia urgently requires.