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The Diplomatic Battlefield between Ecuador and Colombia: Will Uribe’s Stepping Down Readily Resolve Crisis and Tension amongst the Andean Countries?

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For the Andes, the last couple of days have been a diplomatic rollercoaster. This week, the Ecuadorian and the Colombian governments were scheduled to reestablish formal diplomatic relations and appoint commercial officials. This was a major breakthrough in the resuming of ties after the Colombian incursion on the 1st of March into Ecuadorian territory. However, on June 22, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa stated that it was his country which deserved to establish the timetable for reinstating diplomatic relations, for they where the ones who were attacked. “To establish complete relations,” he said, “we will demand that the attack be fully clarified.”

Ecuador was attacked on its sovereign territory by a neighboring country without any prior notice. It was an action that the international community saw as a violation of Ecuador’s sovereignty and a clear infringement of article 19 of the OAS charter which affirms that “No state or group of states has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state.” Therefore, it is not unreasonable for Correa to repeatedly call for a clarification of such an attack. Furthermore, the Ecuadorian president claimed that the bombs dropped on Ecuadorian soil were of U.S. origin. According to his military intelligence, the Colombian planes that participated in the attack did not have the capability to drop such bombs, implying that the U.S. was somehow directly involved in the attack.

President Uribe of Colombia saw this statement as a defiant gesture against his country, and last Monday night Colombian foreign minister Fernando Araujo declared that the reinstatement of relations with Ecuador was to be postponed until Correa adopted a friendlier attitude. To this, Maria Isabel Salvador, the Ecuadorian foreign minister responded, “they [Colombia] have talked about postponing the decision, we have taken the decision of not reestablishing the relations with Colombia.” Correa responded that he would not restore relations with Colombia until Uribe steps down in 2010, for Colombia currently does not have “a serious government.”

BBC correspondent in Bogotá, Jeremy McDermott, is but one of a number of observers who see Colombia as becoming increasingly isolated within the region and is now extremely dependent on its closest ally, the United States, to economically, diplomatically and politically support Bogotá. This dependence has become dangerously one sided both in terms of the limited benefits that have flowed from the U.S to Bogotá and ultimately because Colombia is not important enough for Washington to place all their resources into. Although Uribe remains relatively well-liked inside Colombia, his popularity and unique foreign policy have come at a great cost. He is now tightly associated with the United States and far less with other Andean countries that are working as a unit towards a more integrated South America. Colombia has become for many neighboring countries “The Problem,” as Correa states.

Uribe’s suspicious attitude towards his neighbors is injuring relations between Colombia and the rest of Latin America. He has accused Ecuador of not doing enough to control the influx of FARC rebels into their borders, even though Ecuador has thirteen military units along the border with Colombia, compared to Colombia’s two units. Instead, Uribe should recognize that the Colombian government has not been able to control the armed conflict on its own territory and, because of this, the conflict has flooded over the country’s borders. The solution to Colombia’s problems with her neighbors might require a shift from Uribe’s hardline stance or a new president to take office after 2010.

Remembering the bitter taste after the Colombian attack into Ecuador, President Correa stated, “Trust is like crystal, if it breaks it can be glued back together, but it is marked forever.” It is highly unlikely then, that the trust between these two parties can be sufficiently reestablished without serious acts of compromise from both sides and a willingness to make meaningful amendments to their current positions.

Inside Colombia, many politicians believe the end to Colombia’s armed conflict will not occur under Uribe. On May 28, the opposition leader and former president Cesar Gaviria stated, “pitifully, I believe that with this government is impossible to open dialogue with the FARC.” He claims “Uribe’s government is determined to pursue a warlike attitude against them, which makes it difficult to think that the FARC could change their attitude towards this government.”