The sun was barely setting over a colonial villa in rural central Colombia as Álvaro Uribe Vélez, by any measure Colombia’s most transformative modern president, recited lines of poetry to a small crowd beside a courtyard fountain. The former head of state, who left office in August 2010, projects the air of a financier in his official portraits. But today he was dressed like a paisa—with a traditional sombrero, a white handmade cloth draped over his shoulder, and a walking stick given to him by citizens of a nearby town.
On that perfect summer evening in early July, Uribe liked one particular verse—about a beautiful woman with enchanting eyes—so much that he recited it over and over to the dozens of locals seated in a circle around him. Also in the audience was the Colombian celebrity Catalina Maya, an actress and model, who sat perched on an armchair, her body twisted over its back to regard Uribe. Women and girls were crammed onto the villa’s steps, and housemaids pretended to continue working as they peeked for glances at the expresident, who every so often locked eyes with a new member of the crowd.
Álvaro Uribe is a well-loved man. During the eight years in which he led Colombia, he won the hearts of millions of his countrymen, from those in small villages to the most elite urban circles. And the reason why these millions adore Uribe largely boils down to one word: security. Uribe still casts a powerful spell over his former constituents because he used his time in office to smash a four-decades-old guerrilla insurgency with an overwhelming show of force—and in so doing made countless Colombians’ lives immeasurably safer. READ MORE