WE ARE GOING TO TALK WITH THE GOVERNMENT IN ORDER TO INCREASE SUPPORT FOR THE PEACE United States Ambassador Philip Goldberg urges more attention to massacres and the killing of leaders

By Sandra Ramírez and Eduard Soto, EL TIEMPO, January 24, 2021


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

With the change in the administration in the United States, with the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House, many concerns have arisen about eventual turnaround in Washington’s policy toward Bogotá.

In a dialog with El Tiempo, the United States Ambassador in Colombia, Philip Goldberg, recognizes the efforts made by the Iván Duque administration to implement the peace process, protect the lives of social leaders, and prevent massacres. But he is asking us to “do more”.

Goldberg says that the return of aspersion with glyphosate is a sovereign decision for Colombia, but that the use of the fungicide is “safe”; and he doesn’t expect retaliations against the politicians in the Democratic Center Party who involved themselves in the elections in his country.

What are the changes that might take place in the relationship between the United States and Colombia with Biden?

I think the agenda between the two countries will continue to be similar. Nevertheless, maybe we will look at some points with a different emphasis. Because we have a long history of working together on various assistance programs, on anti-narcotic cooperation, and against transnational crime.

The implementation of the peace process: I believe the support that the United States has given to that effort has been little understood. We have spent a billion dollars in the last four years, supporting economic development in rural areas, getting land titles, and humanitarian coordination to take care of the Venezuelan refugees.

There has also been political cooperation in confronting the Venezuela problem. The promotion and protection of human rights, the expansion of trade, the fight against climate change. Maybe that subject will be emphasized even more with the President’s new policy.

You mention that one of the priorities of the new administration will just be the implementation of the peace agreement. Any specific priorities?

No. As I said, up to now we have done a great deal to help Colombia in implementing the peace and we will be talking with the government about how we can increase that cooperation We might be able to do something different. I can’t answer so few days after President Biden’s inauguration; about things that will take a little time for us to get organized and also to discuss with the Colombian government.

But is the United States satisfied with the progress of the peace process that the Iván Duque administration has accomplished? Do you think that your country’s investment has paid off?

We have seen some progress; we have also seen some problems with the implementation, including the opposition of illegal groups that continue to carry out violent activities. And I’m referring, of course, to the ELN, FARC dissidents, the “Clan del Golfo”, “Rastrojos”, Pelusos”, groupsthat control territory in Colombia. That has always been a problem and it continues to be one.

We have seen some progress. For example, I was with President Duque a few months ago in Guaviare and Meta, in La Macarena, to donate a school built by our soldiers that were there doing a Mission America.

Before the Peace Agreement we couldn’t have traveled there because of the danger. The process of integrating thousands and thousands of former combatants has reached a certain point successfully. But there are tremendous challenges, and we want to evaluate what might be our best contribution to advance the implementation further.

One of the most worrisome issues has been the murders of social leaders. Will there be any specific inquiry about that?

We are always in contact with the social leaders, the Afro-Colombian community, and the indigenous communities. We are always supporting them, with funds, and with our expertise.

And we talk with the government a lot also, with the Ministry of Defense, with the Police, with the Protection Unit that was created under the Agreement, so that they can be doing still more to confront this problem that we all recognize.

I have to say also that those illegal groups are continuing to threaten communities, especially those that want to participate in crop substitution. Yesterday in the United Nations, the United States told the Security Council that we recognize that Colombia has made progress in protecting the population because the rate of homicides has diminished a great deal in recent years.

At the same time, this problem of massacres and attacks against certain groups and leaders is something that needs much more attention, and we are collaborating with the administration, as much as we can, in the effort to increase security in those rural areas, where there is not enough government presence.

Could we say then that Washington is not satisfied with what the Duque administration is doing to protect the lives of social leaders and to avoid the massacres?

What I’m saying is that the government of course has a responsibility to capture and punish the evildoers that are guilty. It’s their responsibility. We support those efforts. But yes, of course, as long as the massacres and the murders go on, the government and the Armed Forces and the Police have to do more to protect the population. That’s evident.

And I believe that the administration shares that concern, and is trying to do more or trying to strengthen its ability to confront the problem. But all of this is connected. The drug trafficking, the illegality, the narco-terrorists, those are the problem and the government, of course, has to do everything in its power to respond and to protect its population.

We are urging, pressing the Colombian government, like every country, to do more, because it’s not working if there are massacres.

So now, I don’t want to excuse those that have the greatest responsibility. It’s those same illegal narco-terrorist groups. Yes, the government is combatting them, but it clearly has not established a policy to prevent the problems that they produce.

You mention that one of the priorities of the Biden administration will be the fight against climate change and the protection of the environment. What are the aspects related to that issue that you think should have priority in Colombia?

The issue has two parts in terms of our relationship with Colombia. One is diplomatic: President Biden appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry as his Special Envoy Against Climate Change and for the protection of the environment.

And there will be a great effort to reach agreements with the whole world for reduction of carbon emissions and to combat deforestation. And those also have resonance here in Colombia.

I have to say that Colombia has had a pretty strong program in this area. So we have an opportunity now to do more with Colombia to protect the Amazonas, to protect the country’s biodiversity.

And the second part is to do something programmatic to help Colombia and other countries that are partners with Colombia to protect the Amazonas, and also to combat damaging practices like illegal mining or deforestation.

Does the United States intend to continue pressuring Colombia to renew aerial fumigation with glyphosate?

Well, in the first place, that is a sovereign decision for Colombia. I understand that first the government has to comply with the decisions of the courts; it has to consult with various communities and later, as I understand the Courts’ requirements, the Constitutional Court’s, they will undertake a program that might be somewhat smaller than before. But we will evaluate the situation after the government makes its decision.

Does that mean that under Biden there will not be an about-face in the sense that aspersion damages the environment, even the health of some communities, requiring a different solution for the increase in illegal plantings?

We also have to think about the damage caused by cocaine production, but the United States and its scientific and governmental authorities have declared that aerial aspersion with glyphosate is a safe tool to use.

There are some differences in other organizations, but that has been the posture of the United States government for a long time. If we are going to see a change we will talk about it, but first considering what the government of Colombia has decided.

And I have to say something more that is very important. In this opportunity, the fumigation, the aerial aspersion would entirely be the responsibility of the Colombian government. We will help with certain aspects but they will buy the glyphosate, they will control the airplanes, those won’t be contractors like before. So now it will be completely different. It’s a Colombian program, with a little help.

Speaking of Venezuela, Trump was very tough on the regime of Nicolás Maduro. Where is Biden thinking of going? Dialog?

So far, I can tell you what the Secretary of State designee Antony Blinken told the Senate on Tuesday. He said we will continue to recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate President and the National Assembly as the only agency that has been elected democratically. And I am speaking of the National Assembly that was elected before Maduro’s election last December, because that was not democratic.

Second: He made reference, President Biden himself said, as a candidate, that Maduro is a dictator and that he is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Of course, we have to bring together all the countries in the world, all of the democratic countries that want to solve the problem of Venezuela by means of fair, free, and democratic elections, to elect a government that also can represent an agreement among Venezuelans. That’s our goal.

And the goal continues to be the same, if there are negotiations, that would be for the purpose of producing those free and fair elections, to produce a government that represents the Venezuelan people.

Will there be any retaliation against the members of the Democratic Center Party that tried to interfere in the elections in your country?

I don’t believe so. But you already know that I stated publicly during the campaign that it would be better if the politicians here did not take part in our campaigns. That’s not to say that they can’t express themselves politically; everybody does that. But placing oneself directly in the campaign is a problem, as I said, because the relations between Colombia and the United States have strong support in the Congress in my country; the support is bipartisan. And that’s why it would be better not to get involved.

And if there is some friction as a result of that problem, we will get past it. It wasn’t President Duque or his cabinet, but just some politicians. And I can say that from both sides, not just one side. But you know who it was that involved themselves directly in the campaigns.

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