Diplomatic relations between Colombia and Ecuador have finally been normalized, with both sides selecting ambassadors who will soon take up their posts and re-establish the missions after a long freeze.
Colombia’s new ambassador to Quito is Fernando Arboleda Ripoll, an ex-Supreme Court magistrate, adviser to the Security Council, and part of the Transparency Committee for Santos’ political party in the Congress elections. Santos says that one of Arboleda’s best qualities is that he has connections with Ecuador, particularly in academia. According to analyst Enrique Serrano, Arboleda also has a good background in managing reconciliation matters and clearing up misunderstandings.
But if anyone has ties with the Ecuadorean academia is the new ambassador to Bogota Raul Vallejo. A known writer, he was education minister for three terms (1991-1992, 2005-2007, 2007-2010) and has taught in many schools and universities. He is also committed to Rafael Correa’s Revolucion Ciudadana (Citizen Revolution) and is a well-known left-wing politician. As can be seen in his blog and his webpage, he is very critical of capitalism and of the logic of the market.
Fortunately, it seems that Vallejo doesn’t let his ideology stand in the way of recognizing merit and holding dialogue. When Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel literature prize, Vallejo was criticized for congratulating him, as Vargas Llosa is well-known as a liberal (which the left-wing consider a synonym of right-wing). Vallejo simply replied that he congratulates talent, regardless of ideology, just as he would congratulate Saramago or Garcia Marquez.
It seem then that the nominees’ profiles fit them for the task at hand, as both are academicians and seem to be men of reason, although they have little or no experience in diplomacy and foreign affairs, which is of course worrying.
But disregarding all of the above, does it really matter who is in the embassies? The answer is – not very much: Latin America suffers from a political condition called “hyper-presidentialism”, whose symptoms are:
- The president of a given country is seen as a messiah (credit must be given to Catholicism and a history of dominance by kings and strong men or caudillos, which of course leads to weak democracies).
- As such, the executive has, in practice, more power than the rest of the branches and also calls more attention to itself. As some say, if the president sneezes, the stock market will surely change.
- The president is thus held responsible for everything that goes on, even if it’s not his/her field (just as the Chinese emperor was responsible for the Earth’s balance).
- The president takes action directly instead of indirectly through his/her ministers, and this is most true in foreign affairs.
- Hyper-presidentialism is sometimes accompanied by great disenchantments, which lead to depressions or coup d’états.
Hyper-presidentialism can work in favor of the relation between two countries if the presidents are friendly towards each other. This may be called a diplomatic fast track as issues can be resolved by a simple conversation between presidents and a common international agenda is plausible and easily furthered.
It can work against relations, of course, when diplomatic issues become personal issues. This was seen time and time again when Uribe was in office, and Chavez is an expert in making things personal. Thus, countries succumb to the whims of presidents who are fighting over a personal battleground, and failing to let their diplomatic teams do their work.
Until Latin America overcomes its political condition of hyper-presidentialism, diplomatic actions undertaken by the agents of foreign affairs ministries will be in constant danger of being undermined by the very presidents they serve. In order to overcome it, the Latin American countries must have mature democracies, which at present are a work in progress. Who knows when the job will be done?