Colombia’s President Ivan Duque spoke at the United Nations for the first time on Monday, uttering words of peace he is barely keeping at home.
Duque’s debut on the world stage was at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit where leaders were invited to speak to “renew their commitment to global peace, conflict resolution, peace-building, promotion and protection of human rights and long-term development initiatives as called for by the Secretary-General,” according to the UN.
The president’s task was far from easy; he was expected to promote peace before the international community, but in Colombia he has been actively opposing efforts to end decades of armed conflict.
The president has proposed to limit the rights of victims whose land was dispossessed during the war while his finance minister has proposed to reduce funds for victims and conflict regions, while proposing to increase military spending by 53%.
Furthermore, he has ended his country’s opposition to a possible US military intervention in Venezuela, defying regional allies who demand a peaceful solution in Colombia’s neighbor to the east.
The peace Duque never wanted to inherit
Duque’s predecessor, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos, has become a poster boy for peace after ending more than half a century of war with the FARC in 2016, despite the resistance of Duque and his political patron, the hard-right former President Alvaro Uribe.
Duque took over the leadership of the South American country last month after one of the most divisive elections in modern history, and amid war crime investigations into several of his political and economical supporters.
International pressure to continue the FARC process and negotiate an end to the armed conflict with the ELN has been enormous, and puts the president in one of the most difficult positions imaginable.
“We are working arduously in Colombia … to be a united country that constructs peace with legality,” said Duque.
Duque’s has used his “legality” argument to justify his refusal to negotiate with the ELN. After taking office, he has demanded the guerrillas renounce all illegal activity with which they have financed their war with Colombia’s notoriously corrupt and weak state for decades.
Duque vs the international community
Just days before his appearance in New York, the president met with the UN’s chief in Colombia, who urged the Colombian president to continue talks with the ELN and implement the peace deal Duque had been opposing for years.
But meanwhile in Colombia, the president’s election and refusal to respect the 2016 peace deal reportedly is exacerbating desertion and the possible rearmament of former FARC combatants who have lost faith in the peace process.
Both the ELN and the FARC, the Marxist groups that have been fighting the state since 1964, have accused Duque of failing to comply with agreements made on behalf of the state by his predecessor.
When this government ignores agreements signed between the state and the insurgency, and denies that peace should be state policy so that it becomes stable and lasting, and on top of that invalidates himself as a valid negotiator who is able to make and respect agreements,.. what credibility would future agreements he signs have?
Duque’s refusal to continue peace talks with the ELN, his support for possible US military intervention in neighboring Venezuela and his vows to break open the fragile peace deal with the FARC made the Colombian president’s first appearance before world leaders an awkward introduction at best.