Miami-Dade County has a history of naming roads for prominent local figures who eventually end up embroiled in controversy concluding in having to re-name roads all over again. This time the honor of a road name goes to Colombia’s controversial former president, Alvaro Uribe. Miami-Dade County commissioners seek to name one part of Southwest 117th Avenue, between Bird Road and Coral Way, “Alvaro Uribe Way.” The proposal was brought up just a few days after Uribe was placed under house arrest for alleged manipulation of witnesses and procedural fraud to avoid legal charges.
Uribe also has more than 280 investigations against him for crimes including homicide, forced disappearances, his role in the origins of right-wing paramilitary forces, fraud and corruption. During his tenure from 2002-2010, thousands of civilians were murdered by Colombia’s military only to be later reported as casualties of combat in order for the military to receive rewards and promotions.
Colombians in South Florida know the story very well. Many are victims fled the terrible violence when Uribe was in power.
Rosalba Patiño is one of them She now lives in Miami-Dade and opposes the street-naming proposal. Patiño is 77 and originally from Cali, Colombia. As a child she was the victim of right-wing violence against her father, a member of the Liberal Party. She lost three fingers in an explosion targeting him. She was 5.
As she grew older, she followed in her father’s footsteps into social work and started the organization “Acordemos” to work with women and indigenous communities. In the late ‘90s, when paramilitary violence was rampant, she received threats because of her political and social work. She left Colombia for the United States in December 1999, the same month a member of her organization was murdered. She is one of hundreds of thousands that fled the paramilitaries.
Many of these details were revealed by a 2016 peace agreement in Colombia. After the agreement was signed, investigations into Patiño’s case concluded that it was, in fact, right-wing paramilitary groups who threatened her life and killed her coworker. Uribe is not only connected to Patiño’s endangerment, for being directly involved in the beginning of the paramilitary groups. He and his political party were instrumental in voting against the peace agreement and derailed its further implementation, even though it brought a sense of peace and justice for so many Colombians like Patiño.
Naming a street in Miami after Uribe will only re-victimize the thousands of Colombians in South Florida who had to flee the violence he encouraged.
Fortunately, county commissioners, now aware of the controversy, have pulled the proposal, pending further review.
In the meantime, commissioners should consider: A recently declassified US State Department documents showed Uribe’s close relations to narco-traffickers and paramilitary groups, and that he hired D.C. lobbying firm DCI Group for approximately $40,000 a month to hide these scandals in the United States. In addition, Colombia media asserts that naming a street after Uribe in Miami-Dade would be seen as an honor, giving Uribe a diplomatic boost that might even interfere with the independence of Colombia’s judicial system.
Commissioners supporting this misguided effort, including Javier Souto, Esteban L. Bovo and José Díaz, either are running for office and seeking the Colombian vote or are part of the political forces that have implemented President Trump’s cruel immigration policy in the county. The same policy that throws the Colombian community under the bus, as well as so many others. Naming a street after Uribe looks like an attempt to win over an emerging constituency that they have done little to protect and serve.
Almost 25,000 people have signed a petition saying “No way” to the Alvaro Uribe Way. Instead, honor the flourishing Colombian community to which I belong. Name the street named after our soccer legend Carlos “el Pibe” Valderrama who, unlike Uribe, was a positive influence in South Florida while he played with Miami Fusion. Or make it “Shakira Street,” after a global icon who makes all Colombians proud. Those names would be a more appropriate celebration of Colombians and their vibrant community.
Carlos Naranjo is a community organizer in Miami and co-founder of the group Colombian Progressives.