|Author (Person)||Cronin, David|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.12, No.18, 11.5.06|
Colombia presents "the most serious humanitarian situation" in Latin America, according to the 2006 annual report by Human Rights Watch.
A complex armed conflict involving government forces and a variety of both left and right-leaning guerrilla groups and paramilitaries has left Colombia with one of the world's largest concentrations of internally displaced people. Massacres, kidnappings and forced disappearances continue.
Over the past few months, the Bogotá government has gone on something of an international charm offensive; it has, for example, sent representatives to Brussels to promote the so-called Justice and Peace Law. This legislation is officially designed to cement the peace process by encouraging a demobilisation process for members of armed groups.
Many non-governmental organisations have criticised the law, however, arguing that it is too lenient on perpetrators of serious human rights abuses. Concerns have been expressed by some EU figures that it falls short of international standards on holding human rights abusers accountable and on providing compensation for their victims.
The response from EU governments has been more upbeat. Ambassadors representing EU member states in Bogotá have agreed that it can contribute to peace, provided it is properly implemented.
Drugs are one of the main sources of finance for armed groups in Colombia. Until a few years ago, the EU and US had different views on how the drugs trade should be targeted. Whereas the US threw its weight behind a militarised anti-drug strategy known as Plan Colombia, the European Parliament and several EU governments expressed opposition on health and environment grounds to one of the key components in the programme - the spraying of coca plantations with toxic chemicals.
In parallel to the fight against drugs trafficking, the EU, in co-operation with international organisations, is encouraging alternative development in order to decrease cultivation of coca leaves. This focuses on the development of agro-industries and marketing. Alternative development has been successful in Peru and Bolivia, but less so in Columbia.
But a study by Martin Jelsma, a political scientist specialising in Latin America and drug policy, concludes that "Europe has struggled to translate its political distance from Plan Colombia into concrete proposals". While the EU institutions had supported efforts to reach agreements on the voluntary manual destruction of drug crops by their growers, the idea of voluntary pacts effectively vanished from the political agenda with the international focus on terrorism following the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US.
Cuba has been another key challenge for the EU's human rights policy. While Fidel Castro continues to be an inspirational figure for the far-left in Europe, he has irked the European Parliament by refusing visas to the Cuban political dissidents who have been awarded its Sakharov Prize for the promotion of human rights, most recently to Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White). This grouping of mothers and wives of political prisoners won the 2005 prize.
In June last year, the Council of Ministers agreed to lift sanctions against Cuba which were imposed two years earlier after a wave of repression that included the execution of three men convicted of hijacking a ferry. With Castro's regime rebuffing calls for democratic reforms, many MEPs have urged that the sanctions be reinstated. The measures were far more targeted than the US economic embargo on Cuba; they included the suspension of contacts with high-level figures in Havana and a policy of inviting political dissidents to events held by European embassies in Cuba.
Author takes a look at the European Union's relations with Colombia and Cuba.
|Countries / Regions||Caribbean, Europe, South America|