Colombian Foreign Minister: Venezuelan Migration “Complicating” Peace Process

Colombian FM Maria Holguin made the statements to press from Washington after meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

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Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin told press that Venezuelan migration was negatively impacting Colombia’s peace process. (EFE)
By Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas
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Bogota, November 24, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Holguin told press Monday that increased Venezuelan migration to Colombia is “complicating” the peace process in the neighboring country. 

“It is complicating the post-conflict in terms of the resources the Colombian state has to respond to the commitments that were made as part of the [peace] agreements,” she told press in Washington. 

“We have to reach certain zones in the country with health, education, productive projects, and then there is the big added cost of receiving x amount of Venezuelans, it complicates it,” she added. 

Around 350,000 Venezuelans are estimated to have emigrated to Colombia in the last six years as a result of the country’s four year long economic crisis, though calculations vary. For instance, Holguin says that approximately 450,000 Venezuelans have both legally and illegally entered the country in the last year and a half, although some of these could be citizens with joint Venezuelan-Colombian nationality. 

The foreign minister made the comments to press after meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington. She said the issue of Venezuela’s crisis was not addressed during their meeting. 

Meanwhile, pressure has been mounting on the Colombian government at home and abroad over its alleged failure to honor agreements reached as part of the country’s peace process. The peace deal was signed at the close of 2016 to bring an end to the decades long armed conflict between the Colombian state and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), ushering in a period of hope in the country. 

But the government of Juan Manuel Santos has increasingly come under fire from social movements, who say it is failing to fully support agreed coca crop-substitution programs as well as to protect social activists and demobilised FARC combatants from right-wing violence. 

Criticisms have deepened since the police massacre of at least seven coca farmers in Tumaco in October, leading to a strike called by Afro-Colombian, indigenous and rural workers. According to Spanish peace process lawyer Enrique Santiago, though the FARC has kept to agreements, the Colombian government has only implemented around 10% of the deal. The Peace and Reconciliation Center estimates that a Colombian activist is killed every four days

Despite insinuating that Venezuelan migration was having a negative impact on the implementation of the peace deal, Holguin urged fellow Colombians to eschew xenophobic attitudes towards new Venezuelan migrants. 

“They [Venezuela] were very generous when Colombia was living through a bad moment, and we cannot not be [generous] now and fall into xenophobia. We must be honorable and help,” she said. 

Around five million Colombians are estimated to have emigrated to Venezuela since the 1970s as a result of economic difficulty and the brutally high levels of internal displacement caused by Colombia’s civil war. Colombian migration to Venezuela peaked in the 2000s under the controversial government of Alvaro Uribe and over three million Colombians still live in Venezuela. Many were previously granted citizenship by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. 

Since Venezuela’s economic crisis deepened in 2016, regional spokespeople such as the Secretary General for the Organization of American States Luis Almagro, have tried to argue that the country represents a “threat” to the security of the hemisphere due to its increased levels of migration. The United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, went further in mid-November, labeling Venezuela a “direct threat to international peace and security… the region, the hemisphere, and the world”

Tensions between Venezuela and Colombia came to a head in 2015, when Caracas moved to close its border citing food and gasoline smuggling. Though the border has since opened under a “special regime”, the Santos government has joined the Lima Group, made up of regional governments that oppose Venezuela. 

Colombia also flouted Venezuelan authorities earlier this year, allowing both former Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz and former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma to enter its territory. Both were accused of serious crimes in Venezuela, including corruption, conspiracy and the sponsorship of terrorism.