Correspondent in Bogotá
“In accordance with our historical position, Colombia will continue to be a country open to international scrutiny,” was the message sent on Friday by the Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Claudia Blum, in charge of attending to one of the ever more delicate flanks for the country when crises occur like the one that began on April 28: the international front.
It was not simply a statement of principle. This time the scene is a social protest that after eleven days still does not end, for which the Government of Colombia He summoned the heads of Mission in Bogotá this Saturday to update them on the events and progress of the Government to regain calm.
The trigger was on behalf of the mission of Cuba, a country with which the Colombian government has had serious differences since day zero of the president’s mandate Ivan Duque. The spark was lit on May 5, although it became evident on Friday, when the Foreign Ministry declared ‘persona non grata’ to Omar Rafael Garcia Lazo, third secretary of the Cuban Embassy, and asked him to leave in less than 48 hours for “incompatible activities” with his diplomatic work, which for Havana has no explanation and he responded with his total rejection.
In what is now the diplomacy of the tweet, and after a video on the Colombian foreign minister’s networks, the Government of Cuba responded through the same channel, declaring itself surprised: “The unjustified action aims to divert the attention of the international community and Colombian society of the violent repression of the military and police forces against the demonstrators that has caused dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries ”. And he pointed out that it constitutes “an unfriendly act that affects the normal functioning of the Cuban Embassy in Colombia.”
Escalation of disagreements
According to the newspaper ‘El Tiempo’, the Colombian government has been tracking García Lazo for some time and his expulsion occurs after two Russian agents last December, something that had never happened with diplomatic delegates from that country, creating a small crisis between Bogotá and Moscow.
A close connoisseur of bilateral relations affirms that the Cuban Government has been present for a long time in different sectors of society, especially in Bogotá, and that this episode is one more in the progressive deterioration of relations, after Cuba’s refusal to extradite to the leaders of the guerrilla National Liberation Army (ELN), the same one that claimed responsibility for the attack on the Santander General School in January 2019, in which young cadets died.
But the minister’s words were also directed to other countries. Blum pointed out the “external pronouncements that do not reflect objectivity and that seek to fuel polarization in the country,” perhaps referring to the Argentine president, Alberto Fernandez, who condemned the “state violence”, regarding the complaints of excess of the public force against protesters and the murders that are being investigated. They also addressed German parliamentarians who question the human rights situation and the concerns expressed by the UN, the EU, US congressmen, the US State Department and the Organization of American States (OAS).
The former Colombian Foreign Minister Camilo Reyes Rodriguez notes that “the perception of the international community, the media and public opinion is negative because it represents a contrast with the perception that had been received of a Colombia with relative political and institutional stability, in general, especially compared to the region and Venezuela, particularly , or with Ecuador, Peru and Brazil ». He explains that the international community has been accustomed to Colombia’s stable relationship with UN agencies and the OAS, the EU, «who have been involved in the internal agenda Colombia in a serene way, as perceived until now, where Colombia operated with presence of international agencies in a more or less consensual manner. Hence, the UN claim about the violation of human rights in the context of these protests and the behavior of State agents is surprising.
While the minister attended to diplomacy, Duque focused this Saturday on the national crisis. He held meetings with governors, as the road blockade continues and the impact on the supply of food, gasoline and basic necessities affects large cities. This has generated an increase in the prices of the shopping basket and a great impact on the farmers of the field. More than three million chicks were trapped in the marches on the outskirts of Cali, and many agroindustries declare themselves very affected. The third largest city continues to suffer from shortages and pressure from eleven days of protests.
The day before, the ‘Conversation on the fundamentals’ was held by Duque with the mayors of the capitals, some in person and most virtually. The idea is that they meet with the spokesmen of the local protesters to collect their requests. “We are going to transfer this to become a true national conversation, we are going to reach the streets and not limit it to technical tables in the capital,” he said. Jaime Pumarejo, Mayor of Barranquilla, the meeting is over, which begins a process of decentralization of the conversations that, perhaps, will help to lower the pressure.
For the weekend it was announced that the march would continue, which was joined by coca growers, transporters and taxi drivers, among other groups. Last night President Duque was scheduled to meet with the students at the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism