Despite Pressure, Colombia Will Not Recognize Palestinian Statehood
US President Obama, with an attitude that apparently prevented him from even visiting Colombia during his first trip to Latin America, is leaving stranded an important Latin American ally to the US – Colombia -- both in regard to its opposition to despotic regimes in the region, and in its fight against terrorism and drug trafficking. Colombia, defined by Chavez as the "Israel of Latin America," has also proven to be a good friend to Israel and a partner to counter Iranian hegemonic ambitions.
While several major Latin American countries recently recognized Palestine as a State and many European countries are pushing Palestinian leaders to seek unilateral recognition, Colombia chose a different rhetoric. In a meeting at the end of March with the WJC and the Latin American Jewish congress in the Colombian capital, Bogota, Santos said that Colombia will not recognize Palestine as a state as a "matter of principle," unless an agreement is reached with Israel.
"We value your friendship and courage for Israel and the Jewish people, "World Jewish Congress (WJC) President, Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder said to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
Israel and Colombia enjoy good relations, and cooperate in the fields of security and technology.
As recently as three years ago, Santos had expressed his concern about the relations between Iran and Venezuela -- a matter of concern also for the US. Since 2007, the Venezuelan airline Conviasa covers the Caracas-Damascus-Tehran route and there is a total lack of transparency on what and who is on board these flights.
In 2008, Colombian President Santos, when he was Minister of Defense, visited Israel where he met with Israeli President Shimon Peres. On that occasion, Santos said that Colombia wanted to strengthen the relationship with Israel and spoke about the two countries' cooperating in the field of defense. President Peres – as reported by the Jerusalem Post – revealed that Israel "has every reason to be grateful to Colombia which in the early years of the state was willing to supply Israel with a great deal of arms when it was difficult to acquire them elsewhere. Colombia stood firm with Israel during a period when other countries imposed an arms embargo [...] and this was not something that Israel was likely to forget".
Israel has been a prime exporter of weaponry to Colombia.
During the recent meeting between Santos and the WJC, media items reported that there was also a tacit understanding that Colombia would oppose the Iranian regime's influence in Latin America.
A key witness who might have revealed the dirty deals between Venezuela and Iran could have been the Venezuelan drug trafficker Walid Makled, also known as "El Arabe", who was arrested in Colombia last year. Venezuela and the US each wanted him extradited to it. Makled claimed to have information on Chavez's help to Hezbollah on the flights between Venezuela and Teheran. Due to US President Barack Obama's neglect of Colombia, a major US ally in Latin America, Santos decided to extradite Makled to Venezuela, where he will be silenced and no truthful information will ever be released.
Connie Mack, the Republican Chairman of the U.S. House's Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, announced his "outrage" at the Obama administration for "passing up an initial extradition offer made by Colombia last fall" regarding drug kingpin Makled. The Republican Congressman added that the failure to take up the offer was a result of the U.S. Justice Department's inability "to submit their paperwork in a timely fashion to the Colombian government."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, however, accused by Makled of being involved in drug trafficking and terrorism, did everything he could to procure the drug lord's extradition. From one side Chavez threatened to wage war against Colombia, in a proxy war against the US, and on the other side, Chavez offered commercial cooperation in all sectors.
As Michael Rowan, a New York-based editorialist for the Venezuelan paper El Universal, put it: "Santos pledged to extradite Makled to Caracas, and by coincidence, surely, Chavez granted access to US $7 billion of trade with Colombia which he had closed to former [Colombian president Alvaro] Uribe, because [Uribe] waged an effective drug war against [the allegedly Venezuelan-sponsored, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] FARC with help from the USA. Colombia gains totally from bilateral trade because Chavez has destroyed [Colombian] domestic agriculture and manufacturing to the point where Venezuela now imports everything it consumes. My God, Venezuela [now] even imports oil and gas from Colombia!"
Finally, Obama's neglect of Colombia had consequences in the US economy. The Obama administration's delay in approving the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), signed by U.S. President George W. Bush and former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in 2006, is causing American exporters to lose ground in the Colombian market. The Democratic Senator from Montana, Max Baucus, reports that "over the last two years, U.S. farmers have lost $1 billion in sales to Colombia", a growing market for the exports of U.S. farmers, ranchers, and entrepreneurs.
From the press:
April 17, 2011
Israel and Colombia signed an Open Skies Agreement
The newly signed agreement will allow airlines of both countries to offer direct flights between Bogota and Tel-Aviv and to code-share flights [an aviation business arrangement where two airlines share the same flight] between Israel and Colombia. Both Avi Ben Hur, Deputy Director, International Relations, Israel's National Civil Aviation Administration (NCAA) and Dr. Santiago Castro Gómez, Director General, UAEAC, Civil Aeronautics of Colombia, signed […] a bilateral Open Skies agreement, which will expand air traffic between the two countries. […] Israel and Colombia will benefit from the agreement, because the agreement will allow flexibility and easy transport of passengers between the two countries. The governments of Israel and Colombia must ratify the agreement. Port2Port (Israel's Trade Portal)
March 30, 2011
Colombia will not recognize Palestine as a state as a "matter of principle"
Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos [...] unequivocally stated that Colombia will not recognize Palestine as a state as a "matter of principle," unless an agreement is reached with Israel.
In a meeting with a joint high level delegation of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the Latin American Jewish congress in Bogota on Wednesday [March 30, 2011], Santos reaffirmed the government's position on this issue, allaying Israeli fears that Colombia will be pressured to join the ranks of other Latin American countries which have recently recognized the yet-to-be-established Arab state.
Santos emphasized that the only path to peace in the Middle East was through direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine. The speech was warmly received by the delegation. A tacit understanding that Bogota will oppose the Iranian regime's influence on the region was also reached. Colombia Reports
March 30, 2011
World Jewish Congress express gratitude to Colombia President Santos
A high-level delegation of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and its Latin American branch, led by WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, today [March 30, 2011] met with the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos Calderón. The leaders thanked Santos for his support to the Jewish community and the State of Israel. Lauder told the Colombian president: "We value your friendship and courage for Israel and the Jewish people. We also appreciate that you have withstood pressure from fellow Latin American leaders to prematurely recognize a Palestinian state." Santos assured the Jewish leaders that his government would stand firm on this issue. He said that as a matter of principle Colombia would not follow other governments in the region which had recently recognized a yet-to-be-established unilaterally declared Palestinian state. He emphasized that the only path to peace in the Middle East was through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
WJC Secretary-General Designate Dan Diker expressed gratitude for Colombia's strong stance on this issue and said that "a return to the borders prior to 1967 would intensify the current instability across the Middle East region while posing a security threat to Israel by radical Islamists that also has ramifications for the wider world, including Latin America".
During the meeting, the Colombian leader spoke warmly of his admiration for the Jewish people and for Israel's achievement in the fields of high tech, specifically biotechnology and information technology. WJC President Lauder extended an invitation to the Colombian leader to give the keynote address at the meeting of the World Jewish Congress Governing Board in Jerusalem this coming June.
Latin American Jewish Congress President appreciates Colombia's commitment in fighting Iranian influence in Latin America
Latin American Jewish Congress President Jack Terpins expressed appreciation for Bogotá's commitment in fighting the growing influence of the Iranian regime on the continent. "In Colombia, you know what horrible suffering terrorism inflicts on people. After the two deadly bomb attacks against the AMIA Center and the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in the 1990s that were orchestrated by Iran, we Jews know that extremists must be vigorously opposed. We hope that a consensus can be reached among political leaders here that currently, Tehran cannot be a partner for closer political or economic cooperation in any shape or form".
Also present at the meeting at the presidential palace Casa de Nariño in Bogotá was the chairman of the WJC Governing Board, Eduardo Elsztain, who praised Santos as a man of truth and principle. [...] World Jewish Congress
January 5, 2011
Colombia President built special relation with Israel
[...] Various South American countries have recognized an independent Palestinian State as defined by the 1967 borders. [...] Yet, Colombia so far decided to abstain from following neighbouring countries' assertive and independent decisions. There are four seemingly pragmatic reasons for Colombia's decision to alienate itself from this Latin wave.
Santos has built a special relation with Israel especially since becoming defence minister in 2006. That year Colombia obtained the exclusive rights to manufacture the Israeli Galil assault rifles; since mid-2010 Colombia also manufactures the new generation of rifles. In 2007, an Israeli firm, Global CST, owned by a former Brigadier General Yisrael Ziv, was awarded a $10 million contract to provide security advice and equipment to Colombia's Special Forces; the firm was allegedly instrumental in the 2008 rescue of fifteen hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Israel is also currently delivering 24 Kfir combat airplanes and the first aerial refuelling tanker a deal that reportedly amounts to $260 million.
Israel among first countries to send aid for Colombia's floods
Israel was one of the first countries to send aid to the victims of the recent catastrophic floods. During the second week of December, Israel, through its Defense Ministry, sent 50 tons of humanitarian aid to Colombia. An amount that Yisrael Ziv, after visiting affected areas, reported in the Israeli media was the biggest by any country up to that point and "reflect[ed] the very close relations that have developed between the two countries in recent years." [...] Colombia Reports
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