Interview | 1/27/2009 12:00:00 AM
Interview with former Colombian President Pastrana: Foreign affairs in disarray
Former President Andrés Pastrana explains why the FTA (Free Trade Agreement) got off track, what is happening with the Conservative Party and why the second presidential re-election is an error.
GUSTAVO GÓMEZ: How was Obama’s inauguration?
ANDRÉS PASTRANA: I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the people and the affection for him that they showed. In a very intelligent way, he took advantage of his speech to remind the American people that they are in crisis and to lower expectations that they have on him.
G.G.: How does he see Colombia?
A.P.: He understands the importance of Colombia in the region and is very clear that we are one of their great allies.
G.G.: Will the unforgiveable episodes of the false positives scandal cloud our relations with the United States?
A.P.: The false positives scandal is the sword of Damocles for [Uribe’s] policy of democratic security, and if we don’t understand that, it is far less likely that they will. That is why the minister of defense has to move quickly in order to explain what happened and clean up the armed forces. [Minister of Defense Juan Manuel] Santos can minimize the importance of the false positives scandal here, but not abroad.
G.G.: Will the false positives scandal affect the approval of the FTA?
A.P.: I think it will be difficult for the FTA to be ratified. Not only because of the false positives scandal, but also because of the economic difficulties in the United States.
G.G.: Of all the people surrounding Obama, who are the ones closest to Colombia?
A.P.: Secretary of State Clinton is close to us; Vice President Biden, who is not unfamiliar with Colombia’s problems is a very good friend; Veteran’s Affairs Secretary Shinseki, who was the strong man of the Army when we implemented Plan Colombia. They are interested in helping us with regards to Plan Colombia.
G.G.: Will we pay the price for having neglected the Democrats?
A.P.: We abandoned the Democrats after it was them, with the help of my government, who were the brains behind Plan Colombia. President Clinton told me, “Never allow Plan Colombia to get mixed up with internal U.S. politics, because that will be its demise.”
G.G.: Did Uribe not pay attention to that type of advice?
A.P.: To be sure we got caught up in U.S. internal politics and we are suffering because of that today. You know that in the tradition of the United States, the president-elect first meets with their neighbors Canada and Mexico and then with the other presidents. For me, I had the third meeting and now I don’t know what will happen, because I believe that we did not pay enough attention to the Democrats.
G.G.: Realistically are you worried about the future of Plan Colombia?
A.P.: The policy of democratic security is based on Plan Colombia. A part of the money from Plan Colombia now is going to Plan Mérida in Mexico. They didn’t look for additional resources, but rather they took away funding from us. If they don’t finance the Plan, we will not be able to continue to finance democratic security.
G.G.: Do you agree with Uribe that the next president must maintain the policy of democratic security?
A.P.: The policy of democratic security is in the Constitution and became effective the day when the FARC got up from the negotiating table. If the FARC is not willing to negotiate, there will be not a single presidential candidate who will not continue to pursue those drug trafficking terrorists.
G.G.: Would you be interested in becoming the president who maintains the policy of democratic security?
A.P.: It isn’t among my aspirations to return to the presidency.
G.G.: Has Uribe accomplished his tasks?
A.P.: Yes, and the reform of the Constitution cannot be at stake every four years because of electoral purposes. Obama said in his speech that those who cling on to power are on the wrong side of history because internationally these modifications of the Constitution for personal ends are not looked on favorably.
G.G.: Do you maintain your position that Uribe and his minister of foreign relations made a mistake naming a new foreign relations advisory mission with the naming of foreign experts, or do you recognize that you were wrong by criticizing it?
A.P.: I maintain my position that the foreign policy of a country should be managed by people from that country. That mission will replace the task of foreign relations advisory commission [a body comprised of former presidents and former minister that has traditionally advised the government on foreign relations]. If the minister of foreign relations calls a mission in order to tell us where Colombia stands in the world, what that means is that there is no Ministry of Foreign Relations.
G.G.: Is the minister failing?
A.P.: At this time, yes.
G.G.: Are you not returning phone calls to the foreign minister?
A.P.: Call me anything but not bad-mannered. We have returned the calls, so it’s important that the secretary of the foreign minister tells you the truth.
G.G.: There was a meeting of the Commission and you didn’t attend. You went to the one a year ago, but there was an argument with Uribe about the humanitarian agreement. There have been no advances on that point…
A.P.: We have to have the humanitarian agreement. During my government, more than 400 soldiers and policemen returned home in exchange for 12 sick guerrillas. Now, in the Uribe administration, we have to be happy because 10 or 15 have returned. And we continue to get hung up on the point of whether there should be a role for the international community or not! If the world is ready to help Colombia then let’s invite the world to participate.
G.G.: The closest countries in the world that we have are Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil, (who will offer logistical support in the humanitarian exchange). Do you agree that Venezuela and Ecuador should participate in the releases?
A.P.: Why not? Venezuela was key in the previous releases, until Uribe de-authorized the mechanism that he had approved for Chávez’ involvement.
G.G.: The minister said that Uribe will call you to bring you up to date about what was spoken about in the Commission. Did you speak with him?
A.P.: I will accept calls that are necessary, but allow me to clarify that the foreign relations committee is not a commission by phone calls. At the Commission issues are discussed, they do not inform others after the meetings.
G.G.: Should we keep Noemi Sanin as ambassador?
A.P.: She has fulfilled her tasks abroad and she should be in the mix of possible presidential hopefuls.
G.G.: She is busy with a lot of meetings around here but you don’t have the impression that she feels a little ashamed to be a Conservative?
A.P.: I think she has been misinterpreted. She is a Conservative who has sought, like me, nonpartisan support.
G.G.: Is the Conservative Party the force that will decide or the force that will not decide questions like Uribe’s second re-election?
A.P.: It is the force that will not decide. It has been the fundamental support for the Uribe government, but it has demonstrated that it has important majorities and has to present a candidate and leave the possibility open to seek other types of coalitions. With the exception of the Polo [the left-leaning Polo Democrático Alternativo party], we have ideological affinities with everyone, including the Liberals, at this time.
G.G.: Should Luis Alberto Moreno concentrate on his re-election at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) or should he begin to think about his first election here?
A.P.: Luis Alberto is a man who has been abroad for about eight years and I understand that he will finish his work there. He has said that he wants to be re-elected.
G.G.: You don’t see him as a future president of Colombia?
A.P.: I see him as president of the IDB. Don’t forget that there really are some people who you should believe what they say.
G.G.: Was Fernando Araújo [member of the Conservative Party] a good minister of foreign relations?
A.P.: He had to deal with some times of great difficulties, but he was a good minister.
G.G.: Does he have enough of a good image in order to become president?
A.P.: That remains to be seen, after the party sets rules.
G.G.: Does your support among the party have enough weight that the Conservative presidential candidate would need your blessing?
A.P.: There is a big discrepancy between Pastrana and the party. This is not the Conservative Party of Caro, Ospina, Pastrana and Gómez. Conservatism today is a party that has lost its moral compass. “Jorge 40” [a mafia boss now on trial in the U.S.] has said that he met with Conservative politicians but I have not heard the president of the party ask for the names of those politicians. What is more is that the president of the party should request the U.S. Department of Justice to collaborate with us in the task of finding out who they were.
G.G.: A question about the Caguán, [the demilitarized zone of the FARC during the Pastrana administration]: Ten years later do you still have a bitter taste in your mouth because of the empty seat [referring to the fact that “Tirofijo,” the former head of the FARC, did not show up at the negotiating table with Pastrana].
A.P.: I remember a quote from former Prime Minister Mulroney of Canada, who, when he saw a photo of the chair in the New York Times told me, “Andrés, the one who looked bad was the one who didn’t show up.” For me I could have had a bitter taste, but for the FARC it was a big mistake.
G.G.: If a second re-election comes to pass, even after close supporters of Uribe such as Gina Parody came out against it, will you spend that third term in Colombia or abroad?
A.P.: Here in Colombia, where I have been since returning from Washington. But there will not be a third term because the president will understand that he cannot do that damage to the country.
G.G.: That is what you say, but Uribe thinks otherwise. Or how can those shameful special sessions at midnight [sessions called by Uribe to pass legislation in favor of the re-election] be explained?
A.P.: It was a perfectly clear message, but I hope that the president will correct his position and that he will understand that that was an error.
Gustavo Gómez is a journalist and does a weekly interview for Semana magazine.