The Strategist Six: Iván Duque Márquez, president of Colombia
6 Sep 2019|

Welcome to ‘The Strategist Six’, a feature that provides a glimpse into the thinking of prominent academics, government officials, military officers, reporters and interesting individuals from around the world.

1. How is your government coping with the Venezuelan crisis?

We have been suffering what we consider the most dramatic humanitarian and migration crisis in Latin American history. We host today more than 1.3 million Venezuelan brothers and sisters. Most of the Venezuelan brothers and sisters who have come to Colombia have come with broken bones; they come to Colombia with hunger and despair.

They have been flying away from the most brutal dictatorship that we have seen in Latin America. And when you look at the report that was issued recently by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, these are exactly the same patterns that we saw with Milosevic. We have a war criminal continuously hurting the Venezuelan people. And we hope that with all this diplomatic pressure and the recognition of President Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela and the national assembly, we will be able to put enough pressure so that three goals are met: the end of the dictatorship, a transition government with broad participation, and a call for a free election.

2. Coca crops have reached unprecedented levels. How did your country end up in this situation?

Many things were done wrong in the last few years. From 2000 when Plan Colombia began until 2012, the area of illegal crops reduced from more than 180,000 hectares to almost 50,000. But in the last four years, before we took office, they increased again from less than 60,000 hectares to 209,000.

Manual eradication groups were downsized severely, aerial spraying stopped, and incentives were created to essentially exchange coca for subsidies. This naturally gave birth to a vicious cycle.

That’s why, when I came into office, I said that we needed an integrated approach. And by that I mean the use of substitution, manual eradication, the payment for environmental services, alternative development programs, the use of precise aerial spraying in harmony with the environment, and social protection.

We need the whole toolkit. That’s why we also talk about interdiction, anti-money laundering and disruption of smuggling structures. We need to take those who are selling drugs in our streets to jail, because we are also a consumer country. And at the same time, we need to treat the addict. That’s why we insist on this integrated approach.

3. After one year in office, is this paying dividends?

For the first time in seven years we have stopped the upward trend of illicit crops in Colombia, and we actually have a reduction. Not a substantial reduction, but one that signals the change in the trajectory. That’s why we have to persevere day by day to do much better.

We have improved our interdiction capacity. Only this year, by market value, or street value, we have seized the equivalent of the money made by Goldman Sachs, more than US$9 billion.

Colombia represents more than 50% of the seizure of drugs in the western hemisphere. There’s no country in the world that seizes the amount of drugs that we do. For every ton of cocaine that the US seizes, we seize 18. And we do it not to please anyone, but because this is our moral duty and because the future that I want for Colombia is not the future of cartels or drug addiction.

4. What is your view on China’s economic dominance and its role in Latin America?

This year we will be celebrating 40 years of bilateral relations between Colombia and the People’s Republic of China. I don’t look at the relationship with China in terms of dominance. What I look at is the need for countries like Colombia to diversify exports. And I think being able to open the Asian markets is very important for us.

We have a free-trade agreement with South Korea, we have a long relationship with Japan, and when it comes to China we have to be able to do much better when it comes to trade. So I think Colombia can be able to participate in that market. And I think rather than dominance, this has to be more about multilateralism, more about constructivism, more about looking at trade as a way to generate bonds between nations.

5. You wanted to amend the peace accords signed by your predecessor with the FARC. What is your approach to peace and how is the implementation of those accords going?

I have always said: ‘Peace with legality.’ The essence of peace with legality is that when people are genuinely on the path to reintegration, it has to succeed. We want them to have productive lives. That’s why, when it comes to reintegration, our administration in just one year has done more than what was done during the last two years after the implementation of the agreements began under the previous administration. Before we took office, just one or two projects were attended by a small number of people. We have now 25 productive projects that are attended by 1,500 people.

But obviously, if there’s a repeat of the past, if people want to go back to criminal activities, we’re going to be very tough with the rule of law because the essence of peace with legality is that you have genuine truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition. My administration works under those principles.

6. Your country recently hosted the first Australia–Colombia Dialogue. What are some of the opportunities you see for Australian–Colombian relations?

I think in the last decade the bonds between Australia and Colombia have strengthened a lot. But I think we should do much better. In terms of trade, our exports to Australia are valued at only $50 million, which is tiny. I also think we should look at a long-term investment relationship. We have a lot of Australian companies turning their gaze to Colombia for sustainable mining and energy generation. And I am very happy that the interest that we are seeing is also connected with principles on the environment.

We also see the interest of Australian companies wanting to invest in our road and port systems. So I think there is an area that is open to be developed in the following years. The bonds between Australia and Colombia have to be strengthened every day, and I have made this a priority in my foreign policy.