Like Brothers?

Colombia won’t trespass into Ecuador’s territory and Ecuador will no longer be a sanctuary for the FARC guerilla. Yet, tough issues remain on the diplomatic agenda.

30 de septiembre de 2009

The plan created last Friday by the Colombian and Ecuadorian ministers of Foreign Affairs holds true value. Only those involved in bringing the two nations closer—The Carter Center, the Organization of American States and a binational dialogue group—know the governments had very different and radical positions. On the one hand, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa still had feelings of resentment, not only with the Colombian government’s attempt to violate his territory but with Alvaro Uribe in particular, who lied to him on the day the Colombian army bombed FARC chief Raul Reyes’s camp. Uribe, on the other hand, was still raging because even though he recognized a violation of Ecuador’s sovereignty, he felt he was not attacking the people or the government of Ecuador. He was attacking his internal enemy, the guerrilla, who was being tolerated on the other side of the border.

But in the past weeks, the tone changed. In Bariloche, both presidents were cautious and in Quito, in a summit for ministers of defense and foreign affairs, the Ecuadorian hosts were centered and agreeable. The foreign secretaries for both countries, Fander Falconi of Ecuador and Jaime Bermudez of Colombia, started to rebuild the trust between the two nations as a way to restore the diplomatic relationship. That is what happened last Friday.

According to the released document, the Reyes episode is now forgotten and the diplomatic relationship has been restored. Colombia promises to refrain from carrying out military operations in Ecuador, while this nation promises to combat illegal groups within its territory. Various cooperation mechanisms have been activated, like a binational commission on the frontier and three “neighboring commissions” will continue to operate on three issues: security and criminality, frontier development and another one that will deal with the sensitive issues there is no agreement on. Ecuador, for example wants possession of Raul Reyes’s original computer while Colombia wants the Ecuadorian justice to drop charges against the former minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos, who has an arrest warrant issued against him.

The questions that remain are: what caused the change between the two governments and, will this friendly phase last?

On Correa’s side, there were various key issues. His popularity was at an all-time low due to a corruption scandal that involved his brother and members of his government like Ignacio Chavin—who allegedly had close ties with Reyes and important drug lords. Besides, the video where FARC chief ‘Mono Jojoy’ talks about guerrilla funds for his presidential campaign was revealed, dipping his popularity even more. The same surveys showed that a very high percentage of the population wanted to restore the relationship with Colombia, because the quarrel was affecting every day life and people’s pockets.

For Uribe, Colombia’s growing isolation from the rest of the region played a key role. Under his rule Colombia went from being a country with ideological beliefs that differed from the rest of the continent, ruled by the left, to being the “problem country” with the military base agreement with the United States. Uribe’s government, additionally, is clear on one thing: it cannot quarrel with all its closest neighbors at the same time. While restoring relations with Venezuela will prove to be a bigger challenge, the relationship with Ecuador had more possibilities. Colombia needs to close any possible spaces for the FARC guerrilla in Ecuador and to do so it must secure Quito’s cooperation, of huge value to president Uribe. This also means Chavez, who has instigated the fight between Ecuador and Colombia, will lose influence in this new stage.

The mutual need of the governments, as well as their rational and measured tone, does not eliminate the profound difficulties that lie ahead. There are many delicate issues and differences in international policy in the balance. Although opening channels of dialogue with the help of the Carter Center and the OAS is meaningful, words must become actions to know if trust has really been rebuilt. In any case, the agreement signed on Friday is a good stepping stone for reconciliation.
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