Over the past weeks, there has been a lot of discussion and criticism about Angelino Garzon’s role in Colombian affairs because of his commitment to the working class and labor unionists. Many are happy to see a Vice President actively involved in the nation’s politics, others see his actions as humanizing the Executive’s actions and stances, and its critics see him as an obstacle, undermining Santos’ work and the modernization of the country.
Regardless of the internal discussion, Garzon has also started to act in the international arena as well. A few days ago, he met with the International Labor Organization (ILO) delegates that were visiting the country in order to assess the current situation on human rights. Garzón assured them that this topic was of the utmost importance for the government.
He is currently visiting Europe in order to do lobby for the ratification of the EU-Colombian Free Trade Agreement. He is first visiting Germany, meeting with German governmental officials and also with labor unions and parliamentarians. Then he’ll visit Switzerland to meet with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and will end his European tour in Austria.
But why is the Vice President lobbying for the FTA? One of the most pressing issues for Colombian foreign affairs is the situation on human rights and the defense of labor unions and journalists. Garzón’s background fits perfectly for dealing with these issues at the international level.
It has been a long time since someone close to the workers spoke on behalf of the government and just might be successful in giving a new appeal to the Colombian Executive power. Fortunately, diplomacy and state representation are not new to Garzon: He is a former Ambassador to the UN in Geneva
Of course, that doesn’t mean that he is guaranteed to do a good job, let alone succeed in changing Colombia’s image on human rights performance worldwide, but it’s very important to see that he is not new to international affairs as are and have been many state functionaries
Santos’ choice for Vice President has been a good one as it really reflects a desire for national unity and it may prove to be a critical strategic milestone in international relations. Nevertheless, this has a looming threat about it: as past Colombian diplomacy, Garzón’s role might end up being personalistic, that is, he might end up having more importance than necessary in international relations to the detriment of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which would mean that any mistake may be quite dangerous and he could become an obstacle in the long term.
But, so far so good. It was necessary for Colombia to have a good lobbyist in the human rights topic, someone international organizations can trust (Garzón himself has ties with the ILO). Hopefully, he won’t get too cocky and make an enormous mistake as his predecessor did with the Yair Klein issue, nor will he stand in the way of the modernization and increasing technocracy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.