Friday links The Medal of Freedom’s risks
Jan 132009

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award the U.S. government offers, and it aims to recognize those who make “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” President Harry Truman originated it in 1945, John F. Kennedy revived it in 1963, and it began to be given regularly in the 1980s.

When we last saw the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a high-profile setting, it was December 2004 and President Bush was bestowing it on Paul Bremer, Tommy Franks and George Tenet for their role in Iraq. Critics, noting the disastrous state of the Bush administration’s controversial war, charged that the President was politicizing, and thus devaluing, the medal.

On Tuesday, exactly a week before George Bush leaves office, he will make Colombian President Álvaro Uribe one of thirteen foreign heads of state or government to have received the medal. Uribe will be joined at the White House by two former prime ministers, Iraq coalition partners Tony Blair of the UK and John Howard of Australia.

Below is a joint statement by several U.S. organizations, including CIP, expressing strong opposition to this award. Álvaro Uribe reduced violence in his country by marshaling military resources against leftist guerrillas, and brokering a deal with rightist paramilitaries. But Colombia is still one of the Americas’ most violent countries, and its conflict is nowhere near ending. Organized crime and narcotrafficking remain robust, with drug production virtually unchanged. The security forces’ commitment to human rights is shaky at best. The president’s own attacks on human-rights defenders, journalists, judicial officials and political opponents are very disturbing, and in some cases a direct threat to the checks and balances on which democracy depends. Also disturbing are the allegations that so many of Uribe’s close political supporters have been paramilitary supporters too. Meanwhile Uribe is still considering a third term in office, which would put his democratic credentials deeply into question.

The decision to offer the Medal of Freedom is the President’s alone to make. As Álvaro Uribe is honored Tuesday, though, we just wish that a U.S. government would someday offer similar recogntion to Colombia’s thousands of other heroes. The country has no shortage of honest officials, non-governmental watchdogs, social-movement leaders and others who dream of living in a democracy under a strong rule of law. Most face constant opposition and threats from government representatives, organized crime, paramilitaries, and guerrillas too. Sadly, Tuesday’s medal ceremony is not for them.

For Immediate Release

US: Award to Uribe Sends Wrong Message
Colombia’s Rights Violations Should Bar Its Leader From Award

(Washington, DC, January 12, 2009) – US President George W. Bush’s decision to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia is a disturbing example of the Bush administration’s disregard for serious human rights concerns out of zeal to show unconditional support to governments that it views as strategic allies, seven leading  nongovernmental organizations said today.

The organizations include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International-USA, Center for International Policy, Human Rights First, Latin America Working Group, Refugees International, and the Washington Office on Latin America.

Bush is giving the award to Uribe at a ceremony in the White House on Tuesday, January 13, 2009.

“The Bush administration has consistently turned a blind eye to Colombia’s serious human rights violations,” said the organizations. “Its selection of Uribe to receive this award only further tarnishes the Bush administration’s own reputation on human rights issues in the region.”

The groups pointed out that President Uribe has repeatedly taken steps and carried out policies that are damaging to human rights in Colombia.

Under President Uribe’s watch, there has been a dramatic increase in reports of extrajudicial killings of civilians by the Colombian Army. And while Uribe’s government has strongly confronted the abusive left-wing guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Uribe has failed to take a similarly clear stance against equally abusive drug-running paramilitary groups, who have massacred, raped, and forcibly displaced thousands of Colombians in recent decades. Fundamental flaws in a paramilitary demobilization process under Uribe have permitted many of the groups to continue to engage in abuses under new names. The president’s verbal attacks on his country’s human rights defenders have been frequent and disturbing. And Uribe has often opposed efforts to break paramilitaries’ influence in the political system, including by making unfounded accusations against the Supreme Court justices who are investigating more than 70 members of the Colombian Congress for links to paramilitaries.

18 Responses to “President Uribe gets the Medal of Freedom”

  1. Camilla Says:

    So who are the Colombian heroes who really deserve it, Adam? That Petro guy, ex-terrorist who who played romantic mountain guerrilla and god knows who he offed, before he took up the more rewarding task of fingerpointing at the people who made Colombia’s cities safe as human rights violators? Or is it Piedad Cordoba, the lovely lady who asked FARC terrorists to go on, keep holding Ingrid hostage, don’t release her, because she made a great political chit. When she wasn’t taking cold hard cash from Hugo Chavez.

    Cripes, name me one NGO do-gooder who made Colombia’s cities actually safe, like, walking-around-safe, attracted the most investment in Colombia’s history to create JOBS, that’s J-O-B-S, that Colombians had never known before and for once in a lifetime made Colombia’s name associated with something besides drugs. Name one. Oh, there are lots of good-intentioned people out there who work as NGOs, but the sum total of what they do is very little. Other than feed reporters with negative stories painting Colombia as 1973 Chile, of course.

    Sorry, those “accomplishments” don’t measure up to the real ones of President Uribe and his mighty Colombian army. In a war, soldiers get what needs to be done, done. Do-gooders are generally in the way.

  2. lfm Says:

    I´m tired and somewhat under the weather so I won´t bother with point-by-points. Others will do that better than me. But it never ceases to amuse me the whole “j-o-b-s” BS that keeps coming up. Sounds as if Colombians only started having something resembling an economy somewhere around January 2003. Apparently we were living in caves before that. Truth is: right not employment isn´t exactly Colombia´s brightest spot. Even after good economic growth, unemployment was high last year and the outlook is quite scary now that times are turning rough. An unemployment rate of 15% by 2010 is now a serious prospect. So much for the j-o-b-s BS. Every serious economist, pro- or anti- government is aware of that. I guess serious economic analysis isn´t as cool (or as remunerating) as shilling.

  3. Chris Says:

    Nobody in this world deserves an award. How can you claim any progress on anything… every year it’s the same problems, the same calls for action, the same “we’re making a difference speaches”, but at the end of the day… more and more people suffer.

    I think all of these awards are there to simply stoke everyone’s egos.

  4. El Común Says:

    Some additional background and a bit of history.

    Here is a list of other Presidential Medal of Freedom winners:

    Here are some remarks by Ronald Reagan welcoming El Salvador’s president Jose Napoleon Duarte to the White House in 1987 (Duarte evidently was never a PMoF recipient):

    Right now the FMLN candidate is ahead in the polls in El Salvador’s 2009 presidential election:

    Not sure exactly what I’m trying to say here other than that it always helps to look at recent and not so recent history.

    Adam, my earlier post had a typo…can you please delete it? Thanks.

  5. lfm Says:

    At the end of the day, big non-story. Most people don’t really give a damn about this medal even under the best circumstances. And these aren’t the best circumstances: Bush is a walking pile of toxic waste these days. It won’t help Uribe in Colombia, it won’t help Bush in Crawford. Probably Jeronimo’s offspring will be able to auction it on E-bay in 20 or 30 years.

    Anyway, good for Adam and CIP at squawking at this. It’s part of the whole “keeping the bastards honest” thing. Except of course that these particular bastards have been way past this for years.

  6. Kyle Says:

    Camila, my biggest qualm with your rant besides the obvious mischaracterization of the situation is that you equate security for Colombians with great human rights performance. This is quite dubious. After all, the average Iraqi could walk the streets of Baghdad under Saddam Hussein with no problem, as long as he/she was not a dissident. The point is that security for people on average can improve as the result of massive human rights violations of others. While the thinking of Mills may be on your side for this issue, human rights are absolutist in the sense that violating the rights of a few to hopefully (after all policy is drawn up before it is executed) save more is not justified.
    And as for jobs goes, what about the families who still grow coca? What job did the Colombian state get them?
    Also, the are numerous NGO workers who could get this award and have had a much larger effect than you may think. May you Camila should pick one.

  7. Global Voices Online » Colombia: President Uribe to Receive US Medal of Freedom Says:

    [...] president Álvaro Uribe with the Medal of Freedom. Adam Isacson of Plan Colombia and Beyond criticizes the selection and wishes that, “a U.S. government would someday offer similar recogntion to Colombia’s thousands of other [...]

  8. Jaime Bustos Says:

    I confused Uribe with Chewbacca, on the top right illustration. :mrgreen:

  9. maremoto Says:

    I don’t see what all the fuss is about.. they, and lots of you, are all corrupt

    what a sick society… what is it that people say ” the US went from being barbarians to being decadent without ever being civilized” …

    latest case in point:

    Joe “I’m a 25 year old fixure in Congress yet, hey look, I’m also change” Biden deserves a medal too

    Among the likely choices for Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden was not the person reformers were hoping to see on the democratic ticket. Radley Balko sums up Biden’s drug war credentials:

    …from a policy perspective, it’s a disaster. Biden has sponsored more damaging drug war legislation than any Democrat in Congress. Hate the way federal prosecutors use RICO laws to take aim at drug offenders? Thank Biden. How about the abomination that is federal asset forfeiture laws? Thank Biden. Think federal prosecutors have too much power in drug cases? Thank Biden. Think the title of a “Drug Czar” is sanctimonious and silly? Thank Biden, who helped create the position (and still considers it an accomplishment worth boasting about). Tired of the ridiculous steroids hearings in Congress? thank Biden, who led the effort to make steroids a Schedule 3 drug, and has been among the blowhardiest of the blowhards when it comes to sports and performance enhancing drugs. Biden voted in favor of using international development aid for drug control (think plan Columbia, plan Afghanistan, and other meddling anti-drug efforts that have only fostered loathing of America, backlash, and unintended consequences). Oh, and he was also the chief sponsor of 2004’s horrendous RAVE Act.

    and for an encore we have the following Messrs.:

    Obama Administration: Brazilian delegates accompanying Roberto Mangabeira Unger, the Brazilian minister for strategic affairs, met with Obama’s transition team on 4 January to discuss Cuba, Bolivia, and Venezuela. Brazil offered to be a mediator between the Obama administration and these three countries. According to Southern Pulse sources, members of Obama’s team asked the Brazilians if they would be willing to help the US combat the drug trade in South America. Obama’s administration would have to make a very sweet offer to entice the Brazilians to play police on their neighbors.

    pathetic…what morals is it that you claim?

    you yourself funding terrorists worlwide….. I wonder why…to keep in place a system that destroys other people’s lives and countries while engorging yourself with their blood

    you’re like a tick..a parasite…

  10. maremoto Says:


    Obama on “war on drugs”

    we shall see

  11. maremoto Says:


    Ganjawarnews * Ganjawareness 1.12/13.9

    Obama’s Marijuana Prohibition Acid Test
    By Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
    CN Source: Columbus Free Press January 13, 2009 USA
    The parallels between the 1933 coming of Franklin Roosevelt and the upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama must include the issue of Prohibition: alcohol in 1933, and marijuana today. As FDR did back then, Obama must now help end an utterly failed, socially destructive, reactionary crusade. Marijuana prohibition is a core cause of the nation’s economic problems. It now costs the U.S. more than tens of billions per year to track, arrest, try, defend and imprison marijuana consumers who pose little harm to society.

    DEA Rejects By Bina Venkataraman

    UMass Request To Grow Med Marijuana

    Patrick M. Ward
    Acting Deputy Director for Supply Reduction
    White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

    Smoking without Borders DWRf
    An HCLU film about drug tourism in the Netherlands:
    is it really only the problem of the Dutch?

    posted by DdC Cannabist

  12. pepe Says:

    Different than President Bush, President Uribe has over 75% approval rate from Colombian citizens.
    Before President Uribe the Country was in “check” by guerrillas, every week towns across the country were attacked by guerrillas kidnapping and robering banks. On top of that their main source of money is the narcotraffic. So well deserved this award to Mr. Uribe. The best president of our country in decades. Our country is more secure now. It’s very easy to say that he is not good but these people never lived in colombia 10 years ago. He supports Democracy like the United States and that is what it counts.

  13. Camilla Says:

    Kyle: My qualm with your diatribe is that you mischaracterize the entire picture. Not getting shot by random gunfire and being able to walk around at night without expecting to be slaughtered in some gangland shooting, as well as not being afraid to put cash in a bank because the fear a bank employee will tip off Marxist terrorists, or not being afraid to wear fancy clothes, is a major, major improvement in the quality of life for anyone, and yes, I would argue that it’s an improvement in human rights, just as having a job is a human right.

    You’re falsely trying to paint Colombia’s gains as no different from Saddam’s iron grip. This is not accurate. If President Uribe is running the death squad Saddamite regime you imply he is, why are labor union organizers provided, free of charge, bodyguards to protect them? Why are YOU free to post on the Internet at all, if you are posting from Colombia. It’s not that kind of regime.

    As for jobs, a safe climate creates them. It’s true the economy is distressed right now, but that’s a function of Big Labor, Nancy Pelosi and all those misnamed ‘human rights’ groups who insist that free trade with Colombia not be permitted. People lose jobs on those kinds of decisions, but you will never see the Left claiming responsibility for them. They think jobs float in out of nowhere and trade has nothing to do with what kind of economy you have, what kind of salaries you get, what kind of access to the world you end up with. They think trade is a political party favor and has nothing to do with job creation.

  14. lfm Says:

    Somebody please explain me how not signing an FTA today, that would enter into effect tomorrow destroy perfectly fine jobs that were generated yesterday before anybody thought about the FTA. For the umpteenth time, maybe the FTA is a good idea, maybe it´s not. If one wanted to make a honest defense of the FTA, one would say: “with the FTA Colombia will create more jobs in the future.” If one wanted to make an EVEN MORE honest defense of the FTA, one would say: “the FTA may increase the efficiency of Colombia´s economy but, as both logic and history teach, it will have only a negligible effect on jobs, which might be undone by millions of other factors, anyway.” But seems that “intellectual honesty” has been erased from many job descriptions lately.

  15. maremoto Says:

    Barbarian Camilla says:

    Sorry, those “accomplishments” don’t measure up to the real ones of President Uribe and his mighty Colombian army

    mighty Colombian Army…Orwellian…


  16. Kyle Says:

    I implied nothing of what you said; those are your interpretations and creations. I merely pointed out that equating greater security with human rights record improvements is disingenuous and Saddam’s Iraq was my case to demonstrate that. I did not equate Uribe’s Colombia with Saddam’s Iraq. That is your (mis)interpretation. Simply put, you jumped to conclusions that I implied in no way. I was simply trying to point out what I saw was a flaw in your equation of better security meaning absolute improvement in human rights. It may not be so absolute.
    I also pointed out that Mills’ arguments are not wholly applicable to current human rights law. You seem to adopted a Millsian approach, so I felt that necessary to comment about. Also, while many people no longer have to worry about being shot in combat at night, there are still many that do. And there are many people that have to be worried about being killed by their own Army. This, for example, is not a step forward in human rights (and it has been occurring for quite some time). You may respond by saying that people used to have to worry about getting killed by guerrillas which is true, but then again, the award is not going to anyone in the FARC.
    A safe climate helps create FDI. This does not always equal jobs for locals (the history of Central America can point that out for you).
    To be clear, all I have said and am saying is:
    -Improvements in the security for many does not automatically equate to a clean human rights record. To demonstrate that I used the example of Saddam’s Iraq (if you would like the source of this info, I can give it to you – I just have to run through and find the Foreign Affairs issue). I did NOT equate Uribe’s Colombia with Saddam’s Iraq; you are correct in that such an equation would be inaccurate.
    -Millsian ideas (e.g., the greatest good for the greatest number) does not apply wholly with regards to human rights and human rights law. These things are absolutist matters (i.e. for EVERYONE).
    -With regards to jobs, you did not respond to my coca growers question. If a job is a human right (to borrow your words (they may not be wholly accurate as I see it)), then has the state fulfilled the human rights of coca growers, who find themselves having to operate outside the legal economic framework that the state must provide for them?
    Also, you did not pick an NGO worker which I was hoping you would do.

  17. CAC Says:


    “Barbarian Camilla says:

    Sorry, those “accomplishments” don’t measure up to the real ones of President Uribe and his mighty Colombian army

    mighty Colombian Army…Orwellian…


    So the frenchmen who praised the achievements of the French Resistance were just sick barbarians, because the resistance did morally reprochable things and never respected German lives, huh? Well, by playing by your standards, of course.

    You might have liked living in Somalia 2.0 back in 2000, we Colombians on the other hand , did not and made sure to free ourselves from terror.

    And what is your problem with the drug battle in Afghanistan? If there is no fight against drugs over there, the Taliban eventually WILL grow stronger. That is a no brainer.

    Go take your simplistic, absurd rethoric somewhere else.

  18. maremoto Says:


    get over yourself barbarian

    you created the black market that destroyed Colombia and my family… you go back to that rock under which you people crawled out of

    that’s what most people don’t know…that el “narcotrafico” (absurd) can disappear overnight by the people in the US Congress along with all those juicy profits for you and your ilk when they invented “money laundering” with the bank secrecy act ..

    you are not fooling all the people all the time gutter rat

    know your place scum

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