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Invite Columbian president for commencement

(Editor's note: The Tech received a copy of this letter addressed to MIT President Paul E. Gray '54.)

President Gray,

I would like to support the nomination of Colombian President Virgilio Barco '43 for commencement speaker next year. Barco has recently gained an international reputation for his declared war against drug trafficking in Colombia and his staunch refusal to negotiate with drug kingpins.

In today's society, MIT students will have to make decisions that might affect many people. They will face the dilemma of whether or not to stand up to their beliefs when confronted by inaction, corruption, or violence. Part of MIT's role as an institution is, I believe, to foster in students the development of principles that reflect an awareness of their social responsibilities and provide a basis for correct action.

I think the graduating class would find in Barco a strong example of conscientious leadership. Furthermore, Barco's presence at MIT would be a reminder that we live in a world of complex social interactions -- a world in which corruption and violence, fueled by the lure for money and power, have a strong repercussion on the society we live in.

In his long political career, Barco has many times been confronted with choices that have large societal repercussions; one of his most important decisions was his recent declaration of war on drug trafficking in Colombia.

Barco had to make a drastic decision as he saw the fragile democracy which he leads being eroded by the rising power of drug dealers, manifested in the corruption of government officials and military and police officers, the curtailing of freedom of speech, as well as in assassinations and crime. Simply put, he had to decide whether to launch a frontal war against drug traffickers at the expense of many lives or to negotiate with the drug kingpins and reach an accord in which the country might possibly reap an economic profit.

From a political perspective, he was practically forced to declare war on the drug traffickers after the death of Carlos Galan, the leading presidential candidate. His position, however, is more and more difficult to hold as the government crackdown on drugs ebbs and the country is terrorized by the violence of the drug dealers' counterattack.

Many government officials are now voicing the desire to negotiate with the drug lords. Some say it is the only way to end the violence; others propose legalizing drugs as a way to end illegal trafficking. Still others claim that without the income from drug export -- legal or illegal -- the country will sink into a deep recession, and others propose the acceptance of the drug traffickers' bid to pay part of Colombia's foreign debt in exchange for their amnesty.

Barco has staunchly refused to negotiate with the drug kingpins. His stance is grounded in a strong sense of ethics that reflects his hope that there is a solution to the problem that does not involve giving concessions or sharing the economic benefits of those who murder thousands of people indiscriminately.

I believe Barco's presence would have a very positive influence on MIT students. Next commencement is an excellent opportunity for Barco to share with students from his alma mater his exemplary experience and strong sense of ethics, and for students to come into contact with a man who is not only an important leader but who lives up to his social responsibility and does so with integrity.

Mauricio Roman '91->