As Colombia gets its first leftist president, envoy Mariana says it’s proof of a strong democracy
Colombia’s ambassador to India, Mariana Pacheco Montes, said her country’s election of a leftist president, Gustavo Petro, is a show of “strong democracy”.
Speaking to WION’s diplomatic correspondent, Sidhant Sibal, Ambassador Mariana explained: “This is the third time he is running as a presidential candidate, so he is not new to politics, but what is new is that Colombia is electing a left-wing president for the first time. He got a 3% margin over his competitor, there is a lot of expectation and excitement when he comes to power.
Gustavo Petro will take control next month. He was a member of the guerrilla movement which later turned into a political party. Many Latin American countries have had left-wing governments, but Colombia has remained the last bastion. The ambassador said the president-elect even plans to have an “open conversation with Venezuela and open relations” with the neighboring country, which will be a big breakthrough in the region. In 2019, Venezuela’s Maduro severed diplomatic ties with Colombia.
WION: For the very first time, your country will have a left-wing government under President-elect Gustavo Petro, if you can talk about the change in your country.
Mariana Pacheco Montes: This is the first time that most Colombians have gone to vote, and the first time that Colombia has elected a left-wing president, and the first time that Colombia has elected an Afro-Colombian woman as vice-president. This is proof of the strong democracy we have in Colombia, of the institutionality and of the institutions themselves. We are in the midst of a transition to the new government that will take power on August 7 of this year.
WION: How important is that because we know that historically the FARC hasn’t played a very positive role.
Mariana Pacheco Montes: First, President-elect Gustavo Petro demobilized the guerrilla army in the early 1990s, he is a well-known politician, and after that he got into politics. It is the 3rd time that he is running as a candidate for the presidency, so he is not new to politics but what is new is that Colombia has elected a left-wing president for the first time. He got a 3% margin over his competitor, there is a lot of expectation and excitement when he comes to power. He receives a country which despite the pandemic is very well managed. A country that is open and growing and has the strongest economic growth last year at 10.8%. For this year, according to the OECD, Colombia will experience growth of 6.8%, one of the highest rates in Latin America. The unemployment rate has also gone down and with pride I must say that women are leading the unemployment recovery in Colombia. So it’s going to be interesting, with a lot of expectations and a lot of excitement in Colombia.
WION: What significance did that have for the region, given that Colombia was the last stronghold or the country in the region that never had a left-wing government. How does this also affect your ties to Venezuela?
Mariana Pacheco Montes: It’s not that the country is falling, it’s just the democratic transition from the centre-right to the left, like in many other countries. Wherever there is democracy, there are transitions, and that is what is happening in Colombia. The president-elect said he would open a conversation with Venezuela and open up relations. This does not mean that we have not had open and fraternal relations with the Venezuelan people. We received more than 2 million Venezuelans in Colombia and formalized or legalized their status in Colombia. So far, 1.8 million Venezuelans officially live in Colombia. This is what some academics call the pink tide of Latin America where many countries are moving to the left.
WION: The recently announced reconciliation report is being hailed as a watershed moment in your country’s history. If you could explain to our viewers this report, as well as the peace pact that saw Colombia discussed at the UNSC.
Mariana Pacheco Montes: Colombia signed a peace agreement in 2016 with the FARC which became a political party and some of these members have not followed, have not demobilized and are still illegal. As for the members who went through the demobilization process, there are more than 10,000 members of the ex-FARC and some of them are members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives, which is a big step and is part of the signed peace agreement. in 2016. The peace agreement has a 16-year process that it must follow, and the Colombian government has called the UN for a verification mission so that every 6 months the Minister of Foreign Affairs accompanies the head of the implementation of the peace agreement and reports on the status of implementation of the peace agreement. As such, since India is a member of the UNSC, it has also been part of these reports for the past year and a half.
WION: How do you see the relationship between India and Colombia in the future?
Mariana Pacheco Montes: Very well, I think we are in a very good phase of our bilateral relations and I am very proud as an ambassador that we have crossed many bridges, not only in the economic and cultural space. We are in Casa Colombia, the first cultural center of the Colombian Embassy, and we have expanded Indian investments in Colombia. We had a high level visit, with the Vice President and Foreign Minister in October, we had MOS MEA Lekhi in Colombia, and we hope many more will happen. Large technology transfers and investments in pharmaceutical companies have taken place in Colombia from India. Tech Mahindra, TCS and Hero Motorcycles are growing and doing well in Colombia. I see and am proud to be part of it to work hand in hand in a stronger partnership and friendship than ever.
WION: What is the cultural connection between India and Colombia?
Mariana Pacheco Montes: Definitely, not just in music, art and all. My son is with me here and he studies Hindustani classical music and he has an Indo-Latin group which is very interesting. We look a lot alike. At Casa Colombia, we brought a Colombian urban artist who paints at the Vasant Vihar metro station, so our ties are getting stronger and stronger.