Colombia’s upcoming presidency of the United Nations Security Council will be a liability if the ambassador’s public blunders are a reflection of his competency.
Lobbying to become a non-permanent member to the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) began during Alvaro Uribe’s government. But it was Juan Manuel Santos who maintained the momentum and in October 12, 2010 Colombia was elected with 186 votes to become Latin America’s second representative in the Security Council alongside Brazil. This diplomatic victory forms part of Santos’ strategy to improve Colombia’s standing abroad.
Becoming a UNSC member, however, is only half the battle; the other half is appointing a suitable ambassador to represent the country. For Santos and Maria Angela Holguin, the current foreign minister and former ambassador to the UN, this person was Nestor Osorio Londoño. Osorio’s diplomatic experience in diplomatic bodies and international organizations is vast. He was Colombia’s first permanent representative to the World Trade Organization and an executive director of the International Coffee Organization (ICO). But even though this experience is formidable, the UNSC is a very different organization.
Recent public interventions by the ambassador illustrate his naivety, at best, or incompetence, at worst. On February 23, Osorio was interviewed by a Colombian radio station which inquired about the situation in Libya. Specifically, the journalists were questioning the UNSC’s lack of response to Gadaffi’s orders to kill his own people. Osorio could only argue that the UNSC did not interfere in countries’ internal affairs. His explanation was contradicted three days later when the UNSC unanimously voted to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court.
From misleading statements Osorio moved to the use of misguided terms during the radio interview. The Colombia ambassador went as far as describing the situation in Libya as “the gestation of a genocide.” As a result of recent atrocities, this term is neither used nor taken lightly by international bodies. Avoiding the g-word does not undermine the situation in Libya, but using the term does illustrate Osorio’s lack of informed opinion in such an important issue.
The ambassador’s lack of diplomatic tact was further evidenced one week later. On March 1, according to an interview by Spanish news agency EFE, Osorio described as “scandalous” Nicaragua’s and Venezuela’s failure to join the international condemnation of the repression unleashed by the Libyan regime. A few hours later, however, Osorio claimed that he had only stated that, “[he does not] think any country can support Libya. It is a scandalous act.” Nevertheless, the implication is the same given that Nicaragua and Venezuela, together with Cuba, are the only countries in Latin America avoiding open condemnation. This blunder undermines Santos’ strategy of avoiding criticizing neighboring countries, which has proven successful in mending relations — it has even been an agreement with Venezuela.
Osorio’s erratic statements are not limited to the media. It was reported that during a cocktail reception organized by the Brazilian ambassador to the UNSC Osorio drew negative attention for his coffee-related comments. He bragged about having met Cote d’Ivoire’s Gbagbo (and his wife, who Osorio claimed is the one with power) due to his previous job in the ICO. Later he boasted about going to dinner with the head of Illy coffee. Moreover, he made clear that when he receives the UNSC presidency there will be plenty of coffee in the Council. These irrelevant comments did not go unnoticed and a Latin American attendee commented “Why all this talk about coffee? It makes us look bad.”
Obtaining a seat at the UNSC, and potentially joining the OECD and APEC forum, forms part of Santos’ strategy to change the country’s regional and global image that was so heavily tarnished by his predecessor. Colombia will receive the UNSC presidency in April and is currently the chair of the Sudan and Iran sanctions committee. It is therefore imperative that competent and media-savvy people are appointed to these important positions. Otherwise, the consequence will be to compromise not only Colombia’s image, but also its diplomatic standing.