The veteran politician speaks bluntly of Colombia’s relationship with the United States and what for both is a powerful concern: the crisis in Venezuela
Political Veteran is the adjective that best fits the figure of Francisco Santos, current ambassador of Colombia to the White House. For eight years he was the vice president of his country in the mandate of President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) and the secrets of power administer them well.
He is a journalist, so he knows what words to use to describe each situation. He bluntly talks about Colombia’s relationship with the United States and what for both is a powerful concern: the crisis in Venezuela. “At this moment – he warns – there is a dangerous relationship between guerrillas, drug trafficking and gold in Venezuelan territory.”That is mixed with the humanitarian crisis. A dangerous cocktail.
Precisely the United States increased on Thursday 1st. November pressures against Venezuela to announce sanctions against gold exports, an oxygen valve that President Nicolás Maduro is using for the beaten economy of his country.
– Did You Imagine That the Collapse of Venezuela Would Be So Big?
-Undoubtedly. President Uribe and I are aware of the problem that already existed, of how all freedoms were being curtailed. That’s why I think we were the only voice or of the few voices on the continent that raised this problem 10 years ago. Before everyone saw the Chavista project as a solution, there was an enchantment, but we were not in that line. We anticipated that it was going towards a model where not only democracy deteriorated. What we never thought, and there we were wrong, is that Venezuela would become a narco-state, a mafia that governs the country.
– Columbia Had Evidence of This Alliance Between Drug Traffickers, the Venezuelan State, and Organized Crime?
– In the Government of Colombia, and I speak during the years of the mandate of President Uribe, what was known and was clear, is that Venezuela was becoming a center of drug trafficking, of illegal businesses. That was absolutely evident. And you did not have to be part of a government to know it. The traces of drug trafficking disappeared when they entered that country because, as it were, they entered a comfort zone. It was known that the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) operated from Venezuela, which is also happening today. But the surprise is when we see that they are so imbricated in terms of drug trafficking. Today the ELN operates from Venezuela and the dissidence of the FARC is also in that territory.
– Until Where the Power of the Eln Is Cystic in Venezuela?
-What we are seeing is a relationship with drug trafficking, the gold business, and many other illegal elements. The ELN today is a paramilitary group of the Venezuelan Government and they use it to make dirty wars and dirty things that they do not want the Armed Forces to execute. The ELN would not have survived without Venezuela, it is nourished by it, it needs it and obviously, they are passing the bill to it. They ask him to do certain work in the mining areas: “We need them to kill these people or this one” in different parts to exercise control and be able to use them as a paramilitary group.
– There Is a Constant Military Threat From Venezuela to Colombia, Even With the Use of Planes and Tanks, Does Colombia Fear an Eventual Conflict?
-Who has the instruments to threaten is Venezuela, who has bought modern weapons are them. The priority is now humanitarian. We know that all countries must work together to restore democracy. How? With pressure.
– And the Role of the Venezuelan Opposition?
– They are the ones who have to start showing the way, they must stop thinking that others are going to do something for them, they have to understand that it is their moment to lead all that consensus that exists in the international community. They are the ones who have to start leading.
– What Degree to What Happens in Venezuela Is a Threat to Colombia?
-We are clear that the Venezuelan Government wants people to leave their country for three reasons. One, the less social pressure to have to control fewer people. Two, they can carry services and distribute them more easily. Third, many of the remittances sent by Venezuelans have to reach the border and change to bolivars, and whoever is appropriate for that business is the Government of Venezuela. They are getting rich because finally, it is a mafia government, a mafia in power, a ruling mafia family. For them, this migration is beneficial, they need it.
– What Is the Biggest Concern of the Us With Colombia at the Moment?
-Colombia has been a success. The relationship between Colombia and the United States is one of the greatest successes in foreign policy that both countries have had in the last 30 years. The important thing is the way in which Plan Colombia – for combating drug trafficking – has managed to maintain itself in the last four administrations of the White House, and, of course, in those of Colombia. That continuity is the key. We have had setbacks, yes, like the one that allowed President Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018), to raise the hectares of coca to 200,000, but the success is undoubted.
– However, There Is a Legal Controversy in Your Country Regarding the Eradication of These Crops …
-The solution is integral. Go through manual eradication. We received 23 eradication groups from the previous government and at the end of this year, we will have 100. With them, we will quadruple our capacity for manual eradication. Second. We are going to bring development to that are looking for the export of palm oil to the US. Third, we are developing the protocols that the Supreme Court proposed to us in order to revive the use of glyphosate (herbicide). But this is not for everywhere, but for where Mexican drug trafficking has entered. They are large crops of up to 80 hectares of coca leaf.
– There Is a Mutation of Peace in Colombia. New Armed Groups, New Forms of Violence, What Is the Scenario You Foresee?
-We are living a few flicks with which we must be careful. You have to be implacable with them and fight them with all the force of the law. What we are seeing is that criminal drug trafficking organizations are being integrated. The ELN is increasingly becoming a drug trafficking organization. The biggest challenge is that they are all in Venezuela. They are operating from there and that complicates the situation, but the truth is that we have the most professional Armed Forces of the continent and are prepared to combat that.
– With the Enormous Pressure on Immigration by President Trump, How Is Colombia Working With Your Community in the Us? There Are More Than One Million in This Country …
-I can not comment on the policy of another government being an ambassador. What we are doing at the embassy and consulate level is providing legal advice, talks, and forums.
– If There Is Something for Which the Farc Fought in the Peace Process, It Was in Trying to Make the Extraditions of Their Leaders Disappear, but Their Dissidence Is Committing Crimes and the Pressure Increases …
– If an extradition order arrives for an offense committed after the signing of the peace, the law must be obeyed. That is clear and this Government is clear about it. No one has a license to continue committing crimes after leaving those organizations. The FARC already received tremendous benefits for what they did in the past decades. We are handling this situation in an institutional manner. Unfortunately, some courts made decisions that go beyond their competencies, but they are the ones who will have to decide what is done. For the Government of Colombia, extraditions are a fundamental element in the fight against transnational crime, as it is for the United States.
– And what about the narcos who are imprisoned in the US, those who left, those who are about to do so, and still have applications in Colombia?
-If they have crimes in Colombia, they should go and pay for them. I do not know the specific cases to refer to in a timely manner, but the principle is that, the one that makes the payment.
– What Is the Most Urgent Thing That Should Be Modified by the Peace Agreement?
– That drug trafficking is not a related crime. That’s crazy. That legalized the cultivation of coca. Forget it. That is over. Who fails to deliver goods and weapons loses all their benefits, today that is not in the agreement. That those who commit crimes after the signing of the agreement loses all the benefits, remains outside. Today is not clear. And fourth, anyone convicted of war crimes or crimes against humanity can not go to Congress.
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