(Guest writer/student Robert Carpenter asked us to post this update on goings on in Oxford on his behalf)
Thanks to some extensive legwork done by Professor Patterson, a few of us were able to get Oxford Union Society memberships in time to attend a talk given by former president Alvaro Uribe of Colombia (the country). The Union Society is one of the oldest and most prestigious debating clubs in the world. Founded in 1823, the Union has gained a sterling reputation for the surgical precision and unerring oratory of its debaters. Many future politicians from a huge number of different countries trained here during their time in Oxford. The grounds are gorgeously well kept and the buildings are equally beautiful, especially the lavish interiors which have been kept up without any thought for modern aesthetic tastes. The place positively exudes history.
In attendance on behalf of Shimer were professor Stuart Patterson, Juan Guerrero, Jesus Avina, Eugene Lim & Robert Carpenter (all pictured above in this order, save Eugene). We promptly took up a place in the back of the hall where the view was spectacular. President Uribe entered to thunderous applause and after an excellent introduction from the current president of the Union Society he began an hour long talk that touched on his campaign experiences, his presidency and the future of Colombia.
With regards to his campaign trail he spoke of the decision to stop at colleges and spark debates among the students in order to bring these sometimes disenfranchised groups closer to the political arena. He championed three cornerstones of his political platform: the desire to cultivate social cohesion, democratic security and an improved business infrastructure to attract investment.
The largest criticism of his time in office was the country's human rights record, which he defended in an interesting way. He responded to such attacks with his plan for democratic security, which was meant as a pathway to reassure the populace that their lives and livelihoods were safe, that freedom still endured. He made it a point to avoid employing the use of the military/para-military groups as a strong arm force. He was especially careful to avoid the institution of martial law. Although he acknowledged that his human rights record was less than perfect he was quick to point out that foundations take time to grow into robust institutions. In the years since his terms in office the country has made vast strides to improve this troubled area of their history and President Uribe was pleased with this trend.
During the Q&A at the end a young woman stood up and spoke of her dual citizenship in Britain and Colombia and asked what she could do to continue to combat the erroneous stereotypes that still plague Colombia, that of the den of drugs and kidnapping and other nameless villainy. President Uribe proceeded to cross examine this young woman, asking when was the last time she had been in Colombia, whether she had brought any friends with her on that trip and did the people that accompanied her leave with their assumptions intact or shattered? Her response spoke of a wonderful experience for all involved and most importantly that none of her companions left feeling that Colombia was still a place rife with violence and drugs. The president then spoke of how important it is for those who wish to know Colombia to travel there and see for themselves the great changes wrought in the last few years. For my part I was hugely glad to have watched the President employ a bit of Socratic dialogue with the questioner so that they could arrive at his answer together.
The man had presence. It was truly incredible to hear him speak. We are all looking forward to many more such events at the Union Society, called the heart of Oxford, and clearly for good reason.