Everyone has an opinion about Colombia's former president, Álvaro Uribe. To his proponents at home -- the so-called uribistas -- he is the man who rescued his country from a decades-long leftist rebellion, resuscitated the economy, and brought back hope to a country that had almost forgotten the word. Meanwhile, his detractors point to the scandals that wracked the administration's final days, with the news that Colombian soldiers had sometimes killed young male civilians and counted them as guerrillas, and that the secret police (known by the Spanish acronym DAS) had wiretapped judges, journalists, and government officials -- including Uribe himself.
Now out of office, Uribe is still close to the spotlight. He has called a series of town-hall meetings across the country, so-called talleres democráticos, to promote his administration's policies. He has come to rhetorical blows with his successor, Juan Manuel Santos, on the Colombian airwaves. All this is to say that Uribe isn't going anywhere in Colombian politics; he's in it for the long haul. While in the United States to release a report on fragile states from the Bipartisan Policy Center, Uribe sat down with Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Dickinson and told her why he will remain in Colombian politics as long as he can, why he is on Twitter, and why Colombia is no longer a failing state.
Foreign Policy: Some countries would resist the label "failing" or "fragile" state, but you've just helped release a report that dubs Colombia a fragile state pulled back from the brink. Is that how you see it?
Álvaro Uribe: When I was president-elect, I never thought that my country was on the brink of becoming a failed state. It took me by surprise. In my first meetings, representatives of the financial and multilateral agencies, such as the World Bank, said to me, Mr. New President, this country is on the brink of becoming a failed state. I was surprised. I had always thought of the excellent macroeconomic management of my country. Colombia had never defaulted. Colombia had never suffered hyperinflation. However, Colombia was considered at this moment a failed state. I did not understand.
Now, I understand. Because of the level of poverty the country had reached, the low level of investment, the high level of unemployment, and ineffective presence of our democratic institutions in many areas of the country.
FP: Now when you look at the country, do you think it's a failed state?
AU: There are [the] facts and feelings. The feeling [has] changed completely. In the year 2000, the prevailing feeling was distrust, skepticism. When I left office [in 2010], the country was not in a paradise, but the feeling had changed. The majority of the people were optimistic. It was a change from the feeling that creates a sense of a failing state to a feeling that the country is moving forward in the right direction.
But there are also facts. We recovered a high degree of investment. We recovered two monopolies: The state should never have lost the monopoly [of control] of the armed forces to armed criminals, and our monopoly of justice and administration to exercise its power all over the country. [Today,] the state has become once again under the rule of law. As a fact, it is very important that the country is feasible again.
FP: Here in the United States, the American role in your country -- Plan Colombia -- receives mixed reviews as to its success, particularly in reducing coca crops. Now that you have the benefit of hindsight, what is your assessment of how this cooperation has worked?
AU: First, Plan Colombia was the right political decision in those moments. But it was badly received in neighboring countries. For example, I visited Ecuador at the end of the year 2000 and I found a lot of criticism because of Plan Colombia, and I defended Plan Colombia.
Second, Plan Colombia is the expression of international practical help. Many countries had come to express their regrets to Colombia, whenever Colombia had suffered any violent act, but Plan Colombia was the expression of practical -- of effective -- help from the international community, in this case from the United States.
International help is not effective without domestic determination, and with our government, Colombia got total domestic determination to fight terrorism.
At the beginning, Plan Colombia was very important in economic terms. Today, it is much more important in political terms. When you compare the current budget of Plan Colombia as a proportion of the total Colombian budget on security, you see that [between 2000 and now] the budget of Plan Colombia has declined as the Colombian domestic budget for security has risen. Therefore, today it is not as important in budgetary terms. But it is a clear signal that narcoterrorism should be approached with a sense of co-responsibility. Politically speaking, Plan Colombia is a great example that the world should integrate globally in the fight against terrorism.