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Colombia - Foreign Relations

“To progress towards democratic prosperity a greater diversification of Colombian international relations shall be necessary both, in the multilateral environment and in the search of new partners and strategic alliances within international scope”, stated Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia, in August 2010. Democratic Prosperity for all is grounded on three pillars: more employment, less poverty and more security. This is how the National Government is coping with the three most serious challenges of the country. Consistent with these three axes, foreign policy shall be focused on the consolidation and reinforcement of institutions and on policies that, in turn, must be attuned to the pace of the changes outlined in the international system. To this end, the Government has made special emphasis on achieving growth and competitiveness, equal opportunities and peace consolidation, leading to a greater regional integration and diversification of the relations and the agenda.

Colombia also became NATO's first-ever "global partner" in Latin America in 2018, and while it's always enjoyed very close ties with the alliance, the military bloc could provide it with additional support in the event that Duque launches a far-reaching crackdown against the ELN in response to what some have reported is intense public pressure to do so. The South American nation could leverage that scenario in order to position itself as a multilateral military platform for pressuring neighboring Venezuela as well.

In 1969, Colombia, along with Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru, formed what is now the Andean Community. Venezuela joined in 1973 and announced its departure in 2006; Chile left in 1976. In the 1980s, Colombia broadened its bilateral and multilateral relations. The country joined the Contadora Group, the Group of Eight (now the Rio Group), and was the chair-country of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1994 until September 1998.

Colombia joined UNASUR in January 2011. Former Foreign Minister Maria Emma Mejia is Secretary General of UNASUR and holds the 1-year position until April 2012. Colombia also joined CELAC (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) organized by Venezuela in December 2011 as an alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS).

Colombia has traditionally played an active role in the United Nations and its subsidiary agencies. Colombia was elected (unopposed) to a 2011-2012 term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Colombia is also active in the OAS. Former President Gaviria became Secretary General of the OAS in September 1994, and was re-elected in 1999. In March 2006, Bogota hosted the Sixth Regular Session of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism. Colombia also hosted the 38th OAS General Assembly in Medellin in early June 2008.

Colombia has participated in all five Summits of the Americas (most recently in April 2009) and followed up on initiatives developed at the first two summits by hosting two post-summit, ministerial-level meetings on trade and science and technology. Cartagena, Colombia will be the site of the Sixth Summit of the Americas in April 2012. The International Labor Organization (ILO) elected two Colombian members to its Administrative Tribunal in June 2011; Colombians had not held these positions for the last 13 years.

The guiding principles for Colombia’s Foreign Policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean are based on broadening and diversifying the issues on the agendas such as promoting trade and investment, alternative energy, innovation, science, technology, infrastructure, the environment with special emphasis on climate change, creative industries, and strategic alliances. Relations with the countries of the Caribbean Basin are of paramount importance for Colombia, not only for reasons of geography, history, culture, territorial vicinity, cooperation for development and the need for joint action in matters of security, but also as a result of Colombia’s desire for regional projection, taking into account president Santos's foreign policy guidelines, with particular emphasis on agenda diversification, consolidation of regional relationships and the search for new partners.

Colombian officials and observers were increasingly concerned by 2009 about the long-term threat Venezuela poses to their country. Experts inside and outside the government worry that any small incident along the tense border could spark a costly confrontation, given the decrease in communication and increase in tension between the two countries. Most believe the main risk comes from an unintentional incident. Few in Colombia assessed that Venezuelan President Chavez planned a full-scale attack on Colombian territory, but officials and commentators alike saw a much greater risk that the heightened tension and increased Venezuelan military presence along the border could spark an unintentional armed border conflict. The lack of communication between the two countries -- along with the atmosphere of mutual recrimination and doubt -- could cause such an incident to spiral out of control.

Virtually all local observers assessed Colombia would dominate Venezuela in any armed conflict, as its years of experience and better-trained personnel would outweigh any Venezuelan hardware edge gained from its recent spree of arms purchases. Nevertheless, many worry about the havoc Venezuela could inflict in even a short conflict. Colombian armed forces in the border area were far superior to those of Venezuela, but Venezuela could inflict unacceptable physical and political damage in border areas before being defeated rapidly. Similarly, given the relatively short distances involved, a single Venezuelan bomber could easily drop a bomb on a major Colombian city -- an outcome the Government of Colombia could not tolerate.

Chavez's regional diplomacy (fueled in equal measures by oil and ideology) left Colombia alone in the region and surrounded by unfriendly countries. This left Colombia isolated, with few regional powers willing to speak out against Chavez's aggressive rhetoric. The region's current silence only emboldened Chavez to continue to speak and act aggressively -- and to keep generating crises.

Colombian officials in particular were worried about Chavez's arms acquisitions from Russia, Iran, and other countries outside the hemisphere. The hardware increasingly allowed Venezuela to back up its hostile rhetoric, while he improved weaponry would eventually overwhelm Colombia's current advantages. This was creating political pressure to respond in kind.

The government of President Juan Manuel Santos defined as one of its foreign policy priorities, maintaining excellent relations with the Government of Venezuela, on the basis of mutual respect, the use of diplomatic channels and the application of basic principles of international law such as non-interference in internal affairs, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. Presidents Chávez and Santos held a meeting onAugust 10, 2010 in Santa Marta to discuss difficulties in bilateral relations. The two leaders decided to restore diplomatic relations and begin a new stage in bilateral relations based on respect, the use of diplomatic channels and the strict observance of international law, as specified in the “Declaration of Principles” signed at the end the meeting.

On April 9, 2011 the presidents met for the third time in the city of Cartagena. The heads of state assessed progress on the commitments made by the technical committees and reiterated their desire to strengthen relations and make positive strides in the areas of the bilateral agenda. As part of this meeting 13 cooperation instruments were signed, including the agreement to combat the world drug problem, signed by the two leaders.

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Page last modified: 30-01-2019 19:26:10 ZULU