Colombia’s international agenda has lately been intensely focused on security: helping other Latin American countries in the fight against drug trafficking and criminal activity, striking blow after blow against illegal armed groups in national territory, tightening border security, asking for and giving extraditions, backing Costa Rica in achieving minimum dialogue conditions with Nicaragua on the border issue, starting judicial procedures against ex-governmental officials who seek asylum abroad, and achieving consensus in the continent about reporting military expenditure to the U.N.
Succeeding in many, failing in others (with a bit of help from foreign intervention), Colombia‘s security issues are becoming part of intermestics, that is, issues that are both of international and domestic concern. In fact, Colombia is starting to be a key player in hemispheric security: it is an example of how a developing country can actually give technical and military assistance, as the Colombian army has an enviable level of experience. Its improvements have also enabled it to combat illegal groups with growing force and to make great security advances, meaning that the national security panorama looks a lot healthier.
Nevertheless, homeland security suffered a great setback when Panama granted asylum to Hurtado, ex-director of DAS, because, allegedly, there were no political guarantees for her safety while standing trial. The news took everyone by surprise, even the Colombian government, which respected Panama’s decision but protested against the secrecy with which it was made – that is, Panama did not notify Colombia about Hurtado’s request for asylum nor the fact that it was being considered.
It has been noticed that many ex-officials are starting to ask for asylum to avoid the Colombian judicial system based on the same argument as Hurtado: lack of personal safety. Territorial asylum is granted when a person leaves his or her country to protect him/herself in the country that grants the asylum. This also means that the person can’t return to his or her country anytime soon and is seeking refuge so as to ensure personal safety or not be tried for political crimes. Of course, the usual case is that it is very difficult to establish that there actually was a political crime because people seeking asylum are usually part of the opposition to the current regime.
Colombian authorities said that they are going to have Hurtado extradited, although it may not be possible. Some Panamanians are protesting because of their government’s decision and other countries are starting to deny these asylums, as is the case of Costa Rica. In any case, Colombia’s judicial processes have turned into a matter of intermestics.
This is not the first nor will it be the last Colombian issue to become part of the intermestics: It all started with the war on drugs (although one may argue that the Panama Canal was an intermestic issue) and continued with the illegal armed groups. Colombia’s military strengthening also became part of intermestics, particularly because of Venezuela being accused of an arms race that some believed that it was due to an anticipated conflict with Colombia. This reached the climax with Colombia’s treaty with the U.S. to have the latter’s army present in many bases throughout the country, which was discussed by UNASUR. The military issue in the continent finally led the defense ministers, meeting in Bolivia this month, to recommend that the American states should report their military expenditure to the U.N. so as to avoid having an arms race.
Regarding the illegal armed groups, Colombia’s defense minister is calling for a strengthening of the country’s borders, which means a good deal of cooperation with the neighboring countries, to prevent criminals crossing the borders to flee from the Colombian military forces. Hence, Colombia’s internal situation is now completely a matter of intermestics: It is a matter of regional security, or even global security, because the illegal armed groups have links with many foreigners, from drug dealers and consumers to NGOs that support their actions.
Every time a foreigner consumes an illegal drug that was made (or handled) in Colombia, it is indirectly supporting the country’s internal situation of violence, drug trafficking, corruption and instability. Every time a country grants asylum to a Colombian under investigation, Colombia’s political progress is in danger of being hindered. Every time a Colombian criminal is allowed to cross its borders, the country’s military and judicial forces are impeded.
Colombia’s current situation requires that the government manage its foreign affairs perfectly, as international relations have never been so important, so vital to achieving national interests. Just as the world started to recognize that the war on drugs was also to be fought at home and not just at the source, so to it will have to recognize that Colombia’s security issues are affected by many actions that the international community may or may not do. Such are the current intermestics.
Santiago Sosa studies International Business at Universidad EAFIT in Medellin