By Rodrigo Pardo, EL ESPECTADOR, June 13, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The visit by the CIDH and the National Strike in the principal cities are two faces of the same reality. Is the Duque administration looking to turn its policies around?

Everything suggests that the last year of the Iván Duque administration will be turbulent in the international field, particularly in the world of human rights. In the most recent months, Colombia has suffered significant changes because of things that have been going on at the domestic level—National Strike, clashes, killings, disturbances—and that some modifications also took place externally, such as the change in administrations in the United States in January. The outlook has changed for international relations. There are new subjects and emphasis and, also, protagonists that have arrived only recently.

The publicized visit last week of a delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) called the attention of the entire hemisphere to the critical moment that this country is passing through, and the concern that has provoked in international agencies. NGO’s with prestige and credibility, like Human Rights Watch, have increased their attention to and criticism of Colombia. Its Director, José Miguel Vivanco, has been calling attention to the fragile human rights situation in this country. His reports express his concern for the more than twenty deaths and other activities characterized by the excessive use of force that public agents have deployed to stop the recent wave of protests.

The challenges are not limited to the events of the recent and critical situation. They have turned to worrying about emblematic cases that also drew international attention, like the case of the journalist Jineth Bedoya. The Director of the Agency for Legal Defense of the Government, Camilo Gómez, has maintained a position open to dialog, but, at the same time, he demonstrates evident disagreement with the decisions and statements by the hemispheric system on the case. Colombia, it’s a fact, is in the crosshairs of human rights organizations.

Meanwhile, the return of the Democratic Party to the White House, headed by Joe Biden, has rightly returned to putting this subject in a preferential position. A predictable change from the previous administration, and significant, but still of uncertain dimensions and concrete results in issues that relate to Colombia. For now, the only thing really visible is the reappearance on the immediate agenda of the public profiles of figures like Jim McGovern and Patrick Leahy at the Capitol in Washington. For years they have been knights focused on human rights. Right now, the only thing that can be said with certainty is that the matter is now in a higher place on the political agenda. Only the coming months will tell how far the new knights will take the emphasis, and whether they will be a reason for tension between the two administrations.

Was this the reason that the departure of Ambassador Francisco Santos was moved up? Will the Colombian government change its tone, which has been characterized by disdain for the international human rights community? What kind of narrative will Colombia’s new Ambassador bring to the White House? It appears that it will be Juan Carlos Pinzón, a former Minister of Defense, an official associated with a hard line. (By the way, same question about the new Foreign Minister and former Minister of Defense?)

In her first trip to Washington, which even preceded her swearing-in as Foreign Minister, Marta Lucía Ramírez showed an evident shift toward moderating her message, with a position more open when dealing with the role of the human rights NGO’s in Colombia’s reality. In particular, she was more receptive to the CIDH visit to Bogotá. Her tone was less confrontational and much more constructive. “On the part of the government, we feel very satisfied by the recognition that the CIDH made to the institutional strength of this country,” she tweeted.

The key and fundamental question is whether President Duque and his Vice President Foreign Minister are disposed to turn toward a more involved position—or, at least not so critical—on human rights policies. That’s to say, toward a narrative really convergent with that of Joe Biden’s White House. Or will there be run-ins in the future between Bogotá and Washington because of their positions on this subject.

And there’s the prickly subject of Venezuela, which is of interest to both parties and which in the Duque-Biden era acquires more importance and has more commonality than under Trump’s four previous years. The new President of the United States has retained the hypercritical line about the Maduro government—which thus agrees with Duque–, although it’s clear that it’s not the priority in his policy toward the region.

That’s demonstrated, not just for the location of the destination, but also the promptness of the visit and the subjects emphasized, by Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit to Central America. This is in line with other actions in Biden’s tenure. It corroborates other realities, such as the limited communication—by telephone—that there has been between Presidents Duque and Biden. Strange as it seems, the distressing situation of Venezuela generates a convergence between Bogotá and Washington that serves to reduce the tensions that might arise in other bilateral matters.

The visit to Colombia by a Commission of the CIDH, after all, was a relatively routine matter, which advanced on the political agenda and in the media, because of the moment the country is living in. In particular, because of the explosion of demonstrations of dissatisfaction, and a growing attitude of criticism of the government. A public attitude that has already produced a change in some aspects of the agenda that Duque has brought in such key areas as tax reform and health, and that give a different complexion to the debate about the Police that is just beginning. The atmosphere got rarified anyway, with the debate on areas that affect the lives of ordinary citizens. Will the government insist on maintaining its agenda?

In the midst of all the news, and of a change in the situation, a curious image almost passed unnoticed. The image of a guard of honor that some of the demonstrators in the Strike made for the members of the CIDH who were going to talk with the authorities. An image that’s worth a thousand words, because it demonstrated, also, that the Commission’s visit and the Strike in the streets of the principal cities were faces of the same coin.

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