Colombia: Santos Need Not Bow to Authoritarians over Asylum

Españolgroup of six Cuban citizens have been stranded in Bogotá’s airport since last January 1, requesting political asylum from the Colombian government. The Ministry of Foreign Relations first denied any chance of granting such status, but as the travelers have refused to go back to their country, they have been granted safe-passage transit privileges to speed up the process of them staying or moving on to somewhere else.

The outcome of this situation is still unknown. What is now public, though, is the Colombian authorities’ stand regarding a group of individuals who have expressed not only their wish to stay in Colombia, but their fear of a return to their country.

Two technicalities have supported the government’s initial position. These Cubans were not eligible as refugees, because they had not officially entered the country; they were in a transit area. Also, according to the Cuban consul in Bogotá, these particular citizens did not fulfill the requirements to get refugee status. The safe-passage solved the first problem. Authorities are now in charge of the second.

For the Colombian government, this uncomfortable situation is less about technicalities and relates more to political matters. The Ministry of Foreign Relations’ desperate attempts to deny the asylum requests demonstrate once again how dependent Colombian foreign policy is on Cuba and Venezuela. This stems from the the peace process currently under way.

Ever since President Juan Manuel Santos announced the beginning of negotiations, there has been an idea circulating: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have decided to negotiate ahead with the support and leadership of the Venezuelan and Cuban governments.

This puts the two authoritarian nations at center stage towards a successful outcome, and Colombian foreign policy now depends on the relations with those countries. Last year, the meeting between President Santos and Venezuelan opponent Henrique Capriles jeopardized the negotiated peace. Today, the Cubans situation poses a similar threat.

Regardless, the truth is contrary to the prevailing assumption. True, Cuba has been an important logistical factor, since they serve as the location for negotiations. In addition, Venezuela might have been useful in bringing both parties closer to dialogue, making the FARC sit on the table.

But not anymore.

The FARC tried to negotiate despite their Marxist dogmatism and their ambition of a communist model in Colombia. They decided to get ahead with the peace process, even though most of their resources come from illegal activities: drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, among others.

The reason behind this willingness to come to the table was the loss of their attack capacities, thanks to the Plan Colombia. They were also internationally isolated, having been catalogued as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union. They negotiated, because victory was no longer a feasible scenario, and they would slowly but surely suffer defeat.

Cuba and Venezuela had nothing do to with this development.

This reality indicates that to deny a group of Cuban citizens the opportunity for a better life does not help to secure the peace process. The Colombian government’s attitude almost seems like a hideous classification of human beings. Colombia has granted asylum in the past, to political characters such as Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, Alan García or Pedro Carmona. So it does not bode well that commoners do not receive a similar treatment.

If the government is so willing to make humanitarian gestures for the guerrillas, why not do the same for citizens that apparently have not committed any crime? Rather, they have fallen victims to a totalitarian regime.

Consequently, the Colombian government should let go of fears over disturbing relations with Venezuela or Cuba. All the speeches on national reconciliation, a post-conflict era, and humanitarian gestures lead into the perfect opportunity to act accordingly. Colombia’s leaders can do so with a group of people whose sole intention is to rebuild their lives away from poverty, repression, and constant fear.

Translated by Melisa Slep.

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