Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence

2016 Peace Agreement in Colombia: Discussion

H.E. Ms Patricia Cortés Ortiz:

I thank the Deputy and the Chairman.

Regarding the blockades, it is so important to hear from the committee the condemnation of all types of violence on all sides. The public force has the duty to protect not only the protestors but also all other Colombians. There have been some dramatic events that I am sure many do not regard as peaceful protests. There was an attempt to burn alive a group of ten police officers by setting fire to a station. There was the burning and looting of an hotel in Cali where police officers were staying. There was an attempted sexual assault of a woman police officer in Cali. The unfortunate case of Allison has been mentioned. Protestors have set fire to local criminal courts in Tuluá. In those criminal courts, more than 1,000 firearms have been taken by people.

I assure Deputy Brady that those are not legitimate, peaceful protests. Having pacific protests with the youth talking and singing are good for us and we are listening but the other matters are criminal actions. Pretending to burn alive a group of ten gardaí is not what we would call a peaceful protest. That is why in those cases, under the constitution, the police have to intervene, because we cannot just let the country burn itself. Under the limits of the law and the constitution, there is no doubt that crime gangs have a role in promoting that cause.

While I do not want to go into it, the context that Colombia will have elections a year from now is important. People in Colombia are saying this and that. It is important to take into account that there will be both elections to congress and general elections. There is no doubt that crime gangs are promoting this cause and anything that weakens the Government may be good for those purposes. I am sure that members agree with me that burning and looting a place is not a pacific protest. This is unfortunate. We have seen the reality with civilians. I reiterate not only that we express solidarity, but also that we want to move on from that with our institutions and the right investigations, listening to the people. That this is what we are doing. Most of the reasons are economic.

In 2019, we had protests in the region. There was a long protest in Chile as well. Thirteen people died. There are currently five sentences from the attorney general. I can send further information about the type of sentences. We have been working on that. Regarding investigations, while I have not yet mentioned it, according to the attorney general's office, 17 civilians associated with the protest have been killed during the protest and two police officers have been killed and we are investigating that.

I want to clarify that there is no systemic abuse by police. We have police who have to act under the constitution. This is what we are doing, with all the limits, scrutiny and transparency. Criminals have taken more than 1,000 firearms from the criminal courts and Fiscalía. The authorities have to be there. That does not mean that we are not having a dialogue but these are criminal activities. The blockades have been bad. I mentioned to members of Sinn Féin last week that two babies died in an ambulance because of a blockade. That is terrible for us. One baby who was supposed to go to a hospital could not get to a hospital because there was a blockade and then died in an ambulance. Imagine being the mother. That is why, as recently as last weekend, there was a protest called a silent protest. Millions of Colombians went on to the main streets of the main cities in Colombia, supporting the role of the police and calling for the end of violence and the end of blockades. This is the type of information that I invite the committee to have.

The police are part of the ministry of defence in Colombia. I remember that the director of the national police mentioned that police themselves presented reforms that I understand are in congress. We have a congress like Ireland has the Oireachtas. Those discussions have to be in the congress. Those reforms cannot be through killing policemen or trying to burn them alive. I appreciate the committee's solidarity with the situation.

I appreciate the Chairman's question and want to move from the historic gesture of Colombia. In this context, we are implementing a peace agreement and moving forward. Of course we are facing a protest. No country in Europe has done what Colombia is doing, receiving 1.8 million migrants and having refugees really integrate. The Irish Government has supported some efforts. A particular NGO called GOAL is working on that. I invite the committee to look at that. Colombia is an example with regard not only to solidarity but also to respect for human rights. It is a significant challenge for us. How to have solidarity with Venezuelans is a significant challenge for us. In the last five years, we have tried all measures to facilitate refugees. Colombia has a border of more than 2,000 km with Venezuela. Nearly 1 million Venezuelans have had access to healthcare in the Colombian system. Imagine the strain on our resources from that. That is why we wanted to avoid the abuse of migrants' human rights and why we are trying to reintegrate people. Just the process of identification costs us more than $35 million.

That is why we say we are progressive. We have challenges, as all countries have challenges. We have institutions which are working. We are confident, as President Duque has said, that this opportunity to listen to the people and the youth will make us more resilient and make sure that we move on. Human rights and respect for law are so important for any country. We need to make sure that we are a stable democracy. Nobody wants to see an unstable country. Venezuela is already unstable with no democracy but a dictatorship. Colombia wants to be clear about democracy and human rights.