Colombian President Gustavo Petro, a former leftist guerrilla who campaigned as a moderate, has yet to complete his first month in office. But his first steps on the foreign policy and human rights fronts have already been disappointing.
During his campaign, Petro promised to restore diplomatic relations with the Venezuelan dictatorship for economic and humanitarian reasons. But he appears to be heading for a much warmer bond with Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro than many expected.
Since taking office on August 7, Petro has not only restored diplomatic relations with the Maduro regime, but has formally requested the admission of Venezuela, alongside Chile and Argentina, to the trade agreement of the Community of Andean Nations (CAN). The group is made up of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
Petro’s proposal to welcome Venezuela into the CAN without making it conditional on an end to Maduro’s massive human rights abuses is a major setback to international efforts to pressure Venezuela to end the fight. repression and allows fundamental freedoms.
Colombia’s new ambassador to Venezuela, Armando Benedetti – a former Petro campaign manager – held separate meetings with Maduro, Venezuelan Defense Minister Padrino Lopez and ruling party vice president Diosdado Cabello in the Venezuelan capital and posted photos of him smiling with them on his social media. accounts. Benedetti has not met or contacted Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, opposition sources told me.
Worse still, Benedetti reportedly said in an interview with Bloomberg that former Colombian President Ivan Duque’s request for an International Criminal Court investigation into Maduro’s human rights abuses was “a mistake” and that the Colombia could withdraw its request.
Such an approach would have a concrete impact, because an investigation by the International Criminal Court has been requested by several countries, and is already underway. But a Colombian withdrawal would be another big propaganda victory for the Maduro regime.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Maduro’s death squads are responsible for more than 6,800 extrajudicial executions between January 2018 and May 2019 alone. The political killings, torture and Intimidation of political opponents in Venezuela continues today, according to human rights activists.
Erika Guevara Rosas, regional director for the Americas of human rights group Amnesty International, told me that her organization and others are concerned about Colombia’s latest moves regarding Venezuela.
“It is worrying, because political relations must take into account human rights considerations,” said Guevara Rosas. A possible Colombian withdrawal from her petition would “send a devastating political message to the victims” of Venezuela’s abuses and amount to “a major setback”, she told me.
International human rights groups are also concerned about Petro’s silence on abuses by the Nicaraguan and Cuban dictatorships.
Colombia’s new government did not support a vote at the Organization of American States on August 12 condemning the Nicaraguan regime’s attacks on Roman Catholic priests and other human rights abuses. The condemnation was adopted with 27 votes in favour, four abstentions, one vote against and two countries absent – Colombia and Nicaragua.
“Some of the early signals coming from the Petro government, such as its silence on Nicaragua at the OAS and the flirtation with the Venezuelan regime by Colombia’s new ambassador in Caracas, are worrying,” said Juan Pappier, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. advocacy group, told me.
“It’s one thing to restore diplomatic relations with Venezuela, and another very different thing to exchange kisses and hugs with [Maduro regime hard-liner] Diosdado Cabello,” Pappier said. “The first thing is a necessary and adequate measure. The second is a gesture of complicity with a dictatorship.
It is perhaps too early to make a definitive judgment on Petro’s commitment to human rights. We’ll get a much better idea of his intentions later this month, when the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva holds a vote on human rights abuses in Venezuela.
If Petro changes Colombia’s vote in recent years that condemned Venezuela’s abuses – which, by the way, was one of the reasons that caused an estimated 2 million Venezuelans to flee to Colombia – it will be a clear sign that he lied during the campaign and that he was in cahoots with the worst human rights violators in Latin America.
The world will follow Colombia’s vote. So far, Petro’s first steps in foreign policy have not been encouraging.
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This story was originally published September 2, 2022 5 p.m.