The Colombian government, led by Minister of Foreign Affairs Jaime Bermudez and President Álvaro Uribe, has publicly shown its desire to reestablish diplomatic relations with Ecuador. Yet, the Ecuadorian government has responded with divisive rhetoric and increased obstacles for Colombian citizens to enter Ecuadorian territory. It seems Ecuador does not want to work towards improving the current state of the relations with Colombia. So, what does Ecuador really want?
The relations between the two neighboring countries reached a low point in March of 2008, after Colombia attacked FARC leader Raul Reyes, who was standing in the Ecuadorian side of the border. Alvaro Uribe called President Correa to inform him about the military operation, and Correa did not seemed initially troubled by the news. Yet, his position changed radically in a short time, and Correa, citing defense of the sovereign territory of Ecuador, expulsed the Colombian diplomatic mission, leading to a crisis that remains to this day.
While many international organizations and external actors have encouraged the two countries to reestablish relations, Correa has publicly expressed that he does not intend to seek good relations with Colombia while Uribe remains in office. The possibility of improvement in relations came with the appointment of Colombian Minister Bermudez, who was not in office when the dispute occurred, and as such, could bring a fresh perspective to the table.
Yet, shortly after Bermudez became Colombia’s top diplomat, Correa harshly criticized the new minister publicly. Just in the past week, after Minister Bermudez and President Uribe have expressed their desire to improve bilateral relations, Ecuador has asked Colombia to first pay for the damages of last year’s incursion. Quito also accused Bogotá of not truly patrolling the border, with Bogotá responding with a new plan to do so.
Additionally, days later, Ecuador strengthened the measures to restrict Colombians from entering their territory, citing homeland security matters. Ecuador already has some of the toughest restrictions for Colombians. Minister Bermudez rightly responded by expressing concern “that there is discriminatory, stigmatizing and maybe even xenophobic treatment from Ecuador.”
In a world deeply concerned with the global economic crisis, it is crucial for regional partnerships that will strengthen the bilateral channels between neighboring nations. Hugo Chávez’s visit to Colombia responds to these dynamics, and the recently-announced economic partnership between the two nations is a good example of strategic alliances that may result quite beneficial when facing the current international issues. So, why does Ecuador seem so opposed to working with Colombia?
What does Ecuador want Colombia to do in order to “pay” for the incursion of last March? Are the expectations of the Ecuatorians even realistic? And maybe, most importantly, why would any Latin American leader consider that divisive rhetoric with a neighbor is a sound diplomatic strategy?
While it is undeniable that Colombia invaded the sovereign territory of a nation, the consequences of that action for Ecuador were minimal, while the benefits for Colombia were incredibly positive in the context of the fight against some of the same actors that Ecuador reportedly complains about when citing homeland security concerns.
Furthermore, pragmatically speaking, the action at the core of this bilateral crisis already happened, and cannot be reversed. In that sense, the time might’ve come for Ecuador to move on from the past, and work towards assuring that future relations respond to both their interests and the interest of Colombians. It makes no sense not to do so.
Author Felipe Estefan is Colombian and studies media and international relations in New York