With Santos’ visit to Washington, a “road map” for improving Colombia’s human rights situation has been set, which ultimately aims at the approval of the FTA, at long last. But, is this combination of carrots and sticks the best way of strengthening human rights protection in Colombia? No.
Many pressure groups, either political parties, NGOs or personalities, in many countries have always tried to persuade governments to stop helping Colombia, from the “plan Colombia, plan for war” banners (a spot on comment) to the “no FTA because of human rights violations”. Besides from being hypocritical (what about Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan, all the indirect violence caused by the U.S. during the Cold War, or migrant issues in Europe, or investing in and allying with nations with human rights violations?), these opposition movements have some flaws.
Some of these protests were naive: Plan Colombia was indeed a plan for war, a war against drugs (which the protesters may as well be consuming, fueling Colombian violence) and terror. Some of the pressure groups are not focused correctly: Is denying an FTA the best way to get a government to improve the defense of labor unionists’ rights and overall population protection? After all, it can just continue to neglect the protection of rights and look for trade somewhere else – Chinese style.
And this is the great difference with the United States. The arguments keeping the trade agreement at bay have actually been confronted by the Colombian government and it has committed to a series of activities that will ensure the safety of union leaders and workers’ rights, among others.Although this is most irregular — a government committing unilaterally to so much in order to gain trade preferences — it is actually beneficial for Colombia.
Now that the justice system is being strengthened and is starting to deliver on major issues, strengthening the rule of law is the best next step for Colombia’s development. After all, a peaceful and thriving society cannot exist without a strong state to guarantee that everyone plays by the rules. And this is exactly the aim that the international community must have with Colombia and other states: Helping strengthen their capacity.
Such efforts have been done, for instance, with the Plan Colombia, which finally strengthened a very weak military in the 90s. Now, Santos visited Spain, and the Spanish government is going to aid Colombia in several reforms and pacification processes, one of which is the victims’ reparation, a cornerstone of the Santos administration.
So what about carrots and sticks to further human rights? Groups, lobbyists and NGOs can pressure all they want; denying aid or trade is not going to make the situation any better. But investing in state building and strengthening is the best way to improve human protection worldwide. Training bureaucrats, replicating successful governmental structures, strengthening accountability and cooperating with the armed forces to ensure national safety and integrity are the best options to improve Colombia’s human rights record.