Colombia’s new diplomatic efforts to discredit the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) internationally only demonstrate the failure of domestic diplomacy; the fact that some Colombian diplomats are closely linked to the paramilitaries may meanwhile serve the interests of the narco-guerrilla movement. Instead of funneling its resources into an anti-FARC propaganda campaign, Colombia’s diplomacy should focus its energy on professionalizing its Foreign Service.
Last week, the Foreign Ministry held a meeting with 41 Colombian ambassadors to discuss foreign relations strategy for 2010. Their focus was on how to counterbalance the FARC’s diplomatic efforts, especially after a documentary celebrating their agricultural skills surfaced recently.
The documentary, entitled “Insurgency in the 21st Century,” was shot by Argentinean filmmakers in early 2009 and presented in November at a Buenos Aires film festival. But it only caught the government’s attention two weeks ago after a clip appeared on Youtube. In the video, the leader of the FARC’s 35th Front misleadingly explained that the guerrilla’s stomachs and coffers were filled only through the cultivation of legal crops such as cacao, corn, plantains, and coffee.
The FARC’s diplomatic corps was officially created in 1993 after the 8th FARC Conference, although the FARC had cultivated strong links with other guerrilla movements since the 1970s. The organization aimed to forge relations with socialist governments, improve the image of the armed movement and seek political recognition for their struggle.
Taking into account the FARC’s diplomatic history, revived Colombian diplomatic efforts against the organization only underscore the government’s inherent structural defects. It is inconceivable that the entire Foreign Service of Colombia is needed to combat the FARC’s “diplomatic efforts” when the guerrilla group’s own actions serve to discredit them; even more discrediting is the fact that the FARC has not succeeded in its struggle after 45 years.
Also questionable is what Colombian diplomacy can achieve when the government and its diplomatic corps are so vastly discredited among influential civil society in Europe and the U.S. The government’s credibility is affected by the innumerable scandals and its lack of social policies to alleviate the root cause of the internal conflict. The credibility of the Foreign Service is meanwhile affected by the culture of paying for political favours, which results in the appointment of unqualified individuals, at best, or criminals, at worst. Some examples:
- Salvador Arana Sus was named ambassador to Chile in 2003 after masterminding, with the help of paramilitaries, the kidnapping, torture and murder of a political opponent a few months previously; the Supreme Court sentenced him to 40 years in jail.
- Luis Camilo Osorio has served as ambassador since 2005, to Italy, Greece, and now Mexico. He is accused of having protected paramilitaries during his term as prosecutor general, from 2001 to 2005. He refused to investigate Arana Sus.
- Jorge Noguera Cotes was named consul in Milan, Italy in 2005 after setting up the illegal wiretapping division of the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) and sharing secret information with the paramilitaries; he is currently in detention awaiting trial.
- Sabas Pretelt de la Vega has served as ambassador to Italy since 2006 and is now the sole candidate to preside over the UN’s World Food Programme. As interior minister he allegedly bribed Congresspeople into voting for a constitutional amendment allowing Uribe’s first re-election. He is being investigated by the prosecutor general.
- Juan Jose Chaux Mosquera was appointed ambassador to the Netherlands in December 2007 immediately after the Prosecutor General’s office opened a preliminary investigation into his suspected links to paramilitaries; he is currently awaiting trial.
- Ernesto Yamhure Fonseca was a consular official in Stockholm, Sweden, where he spied on Colombian dissidents; a paramilitary boss declared that Yamhure was a friend and political advisor to United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) founder Carlos Castaño Gil.
- Retired General Mario Montoya Uribe was appointed ambassador to the Dominican Republic in February 2009 after he retired as general following extrajudicial killings by the army. He is currently under criminal investigation for his alleged ties to paramilitaries.
Discrediting FARC-diplomacy with para-diplomacy is as ludicrous as the Colombian conflict itself. Perhaps the most important efforts to discredit the FARC abroad (and the other armed groups) are conducted by the millions of Colombians who through street demonstrations have condemned the violence perpetrated by all sides of the conflict: guerrilla, paramilitaries and army.
A country’s internal realities are reflected by its foreign diplomats. In that regard, the FARC and the government have done a magnificent job.