Ecuador Week: A future away from the past

A year ago today,
the Colombian military attacked a camp in Ecuador, killing FARC leader
Raúl Reyes. The attack led to a bilateral crisis between Colombia and
Ecuador that remains intensely vivid to this day. Colombia Reports has
offered a thorough overview of the history, and the differences and
similarities of both nations. Nonetheless, within the larger framework
of international relations, it seems as the relations between Quito and
Bogotá require less of revisiting the past, and more of envisioning a
future in which harmony and collaboration between the two neighbors
will go from being perceived as a choice into becoming an evident

While the
development of the bilateral relations has been discussed thoroughly in
this series, it is relevant to briefly revisit the moments that
illustrate the reasons for the stagnation of this conflict. In the
initial moments in which Rafael Correa reacted to the news communicated
by Alvaro Uribe regarding the military operation, Correa seemed
compliant, if nothing else. He seemed willing to accept that the
benefits of the invasion of Ecuadorian sovereign territory and the
demise of Reyes, outweighed the negative implications.


Yet, Correa’s
reaction to the operation transformed swiftly, and his tone when
referring to Colombia, and many of its leaders, has remained aggressive
and defiant since. To be clear, Correa had plenty of reasons to react
negatively. After all, Colombia made a mistake by intruding in foreign
territory and conducting a military operation of this caliber.
Nonetheless, Correa’s sudden change of tone, and the fact that it has
remained the same for a year begs the question of whether it is
possible to stabilize bilateral relations.

Correa has specified
his demands in order to consider reestablishing relations with the
neighboring country. Those include the increase of Colombian armed
forces in the border, explanations regarding the details of the
intrusion, and Bogota’s commitment to stop its search for associations
between FARC and members of the Ecuadorian government. On the other
hand, Colombia has asked for the Correa administration to clearly
denounce guerrilla groups and severe any existing ties between Ecuador
and those groups.

Both the Ecuadorian
and the Colombian governments are requesting to take a closer look at
the past before moving on to the future. While this approach may seem
wise most of the time – as history can often serve as a guide – in this
case, that route seems to lead further away from resolution. Does
Ecuador really want to go back to the debate regarding the details of
the military operation? Could there really be any positive result from
revisiting those actions? Would Ecuador even believe the legitimacy of
any information offered by the Uribe administration? More so, is
Ecuador going to find something more incriminating than the
already-known fact that Colombia invaded its “sovereign territory”?

On the other hand,
does Colombia really want to have a conversation about old ties between
the Ecuadorian government and the FARC? Is it even helpful to bring up
officials that are not linked anymore to the Correa administration?
Furthermore, if Colombia really thought that the evidence is so
compelling as to prove the adamant support of the Correa administration
to FARC, would it currently be seeking to stabilize the broken ties?

It seems as no
positive outcomes could result from the answers to those questions, and
while many may consider that those answers are necessary stepping
stones in the process of creating a trusting relationship, I would
argue that it is easier to deal with those pressing issues in the bases
of a reenvisioning of a common future.

In that sense,
Ecuador’s other demands seem more indicative of what the conversations
between the two countries should be like. The request for increased
Colombian troop presence in the border is understandable. More so,
Ecuador has already recognized Colombia’s move towards fulfilling that
objective. But, as with any border, it is crucial to remember that the
security of a border is not only the responsibility of those at one of
its sides. Just like Correa complains about the violence and the
migrations that transpire through the border with Colombia, Bogotá also
has the right to be concerned about the fact that a porous border
allows for the hiding of those who break the law within its national

The border, such as
the debate about the treatment of Colombian refugees that migrate to
Ecuador, and such as the discussions around topics that connect both
nations, such as the global economic trends and the urgent
environmental concerns, are all conversations that require an overt
willingness to collaborate.

As such, rather than
blaming Ecuadorian officials for having ties with FARC, it seems as
it’d be most productive to sign bilateral accords in which Ecuador
denounces guerrilla groups and commits to supporting Colombian
intelligence and military efforts against those groups. Ecuador could
then be held accountable for not respecting such an accord. Similarly,
instead of dwelling on the attack over sovereign territory, it’d be
most effective to have Colombia commit publicly to not repeating an
action of the same nature. These agreements could be done in the
presence of the international organizations that have called repeatedly
for the normalization of the relations between the two neighbors, such
as the OEA or the Carter Foundation.

Of course, the idea
of somehow forgetting the troubled past and moving on to a hopeful
future is challenging, but, above all, it requires a real commitment to
solving a conflict that does not benefit either nation. The true
question is whether Ecuador and Colombia will be able to come to that
realization on their own account. If not, the realities of the current
trends in the international realm will make sure to fuel their engines.

The international
system of 2009 presents unique challenges that are best addressed
through collaboration between nations. The global economic crisis has
reminded countries in the developing world, and particularly in the
Americas, of the importance of not only having strong national economic
systems, but also on fostering regional links that will benefit the
development of regions and not just nations.

The same thing could
be said for the environmental challenges that face the entire globe,
but in particular to those that face northern South America. Colombia
and Ecuador, like other neighbors have commonalities that allow for
broad opportunities to seek sustainability and protection of abundant
yet diminishing natural resources.

A similar scenario
could be presented in regards to the political leverage required to
address the regional needs at international settings. It is no
revelation that united regions will be most likely to execute pressure
at the global level. South American nations need to strengthen their
unity to effectively fight for common regional interests.

Simply, in today’s
world, Colombia and Ecuador cannot afford to live without one another.
Arguably most poignant, they already do not. It is too often that in
international conflicts, common sense is left out of the equation.
Well, in this case, the use of common sense would most probably remind
us that the two countries are neighbors, and that neighbors that work
together are more likely to succeed than neighbors that do not. So, how
much longer until both nations come to that seemingly evident

Author Felipe Estefan is Colombian and studies media and international relations in New York   

Related posts

The threats to Colombia’s biodiversity

Reestablishing Colombia’s sovereignty; approaches to a new relationship with the US

The diplomatic smokescreen between the US and Colombia