Colombia’s President Duque on environmental terrorism, migration and democracy

The United Nations General Assembly gathers this week in New York to discuss the pandemic, climate change, and migration — as more than 80 million people are displaced across the planet. President Ivȧn Duque of Colombia has been in office three years — at a crossroads of South and Central America — and manages all of these problems together. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the issues.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The United Nations General Assembly gathers this week in New York, chief among the topics, the pandemic, climate change, and migration, as more than 80 million people are displaced across the planet.

    One leader attending the discussions has to contend with many of these problems all at once. President Ivan Duque of Colombia has been in office three years at a crossroads of South and Central America.

    We spoke a short time ago.

    President Duque, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

    Your office says the main focus of this trip has to do with climate change and migration.

    So, let me start with climate and ask you, what steps is your government taking right now to address the climate goals and, in connection with that, to stop the killing of environmental activists? We know that 65 of them were killed in Colombia last year. That is the most of any country in the world.

  • Ivan Duque, Colombian President:

    Well, Judy, thank you so much for having me here in your program.

    And I should mention this, that we're going to the summit this year in Glasgow on climate change, and Colombia is committed to reduce by 51 percent the CO2 emissions by 2030 and becoming a carbon-neutral country by 2050.

    And you well point out the challenge that we have, because terrorist organizations want to kill the environmental leaders that are making the case for the people to leave aside narco-trafficking, because narco-traffic is an eco-site in Colombia. In order to plant one hectare of coca crops, two hectares of tropical jungle are destroyed.

    So, we are protecting this movement. And that is why we are so committed to dismantling the terrorist organizations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much to ask you about that, but also with regard to migration.

    As you know, you are visiting the United States at a moment of great stress on our Southern border, with thousands of migrants from Haiti who have gathered there. This is in addition to the existing migrants coming from Central America, South America.

    You have said there should be more U.S. investment in the region. Right now, the Biden administration is investing in the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Central America. Is that the right focus? What more, what different should the Biden administration be doing?

  • Ivan Duque:

    Well, first of all, I should mention, Judy, that a country like Colombia is embracing right now a very strong fraternal migration policy.

    As you know, we are granting temporary protective status to 1.8 million Venezuelan brothers and sisters who are in our country. And now you were mentioning the situation in the U.S. Southern border. I think the approach that has been taken by the United States in order to promote near-shoring, which means let's bring U.S. factories that were deployed in Asia also to be installed in Latin America, be close to market, I think that can generate a lot of opportunities and job opportunities, especially in Central America and in countries like Colombia.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, one of the paths north as these migrants are taking, as you know well, through Colombia is the so called Darien Gap, a very treacherous journey these migrants have made.

    We have done — had reporting here on the "NewsHour" by reporter Nadja Drost on this.

    What obligation does your government have to ease the terrible conditions that these migrants are facing?

  • Ivan Duque:

    Well, Judy, I think it is not that they are coming through Colombia, because they already are coming to Colombia from other countries.

    This is a situation that we have seen for many years. And Colombia has made interventions in the Darien Gap. We have regular controls with Panama. But, obviously, what has happened in Haiti, not only with the pandemic, but also the economic destruction, the earthquake, and the political crisis, is putting more pressure on people to migrate.

    So they are going through Ecuador. They go through Chile. Then they pass through Colombia and they continue to move north. I think that's why we need to have a more coordinated migration policy, because what we need to develop in Haiti are sustainable working opportunities, so that people can have a way of living there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I also want to ask you, Mr. President, there are, again, a number of issues.

    Particularly challenging right now, according to Human Rights Watch, and you know about this, the death of 25 demonstrators at the hands of Colombian police officers. No one has been sentenced or imprisoned, jailed, as a result of this.

    Why not?

  • Ivan Duque:

    Well, Judy, we are — we have said since day one of the my administration that there is zero tolerance to any wrongdoing of members of the police force or the army.

    And we have been acting with investigations. There is the prosecutor general's office doing their work, the attorney general's office doing their work. And I think we have tried to move forward very fast. But, obviously, we have to move through the judiciary system and also with the guarantees that have to be part of a fair trial in Colombia.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Duque, you have been critical of the historic deal that a previous president of Colombia cut with the so-called FARC rebels.

    These, of course, were the guerrilla group that staged this decades-long insurrection against the government. However, five years after that deal, progress, according to the critics, is slowing on implementing the reforms that had been agreed to.

    One oversight group, American-based oversight group, says — quote — "There's been a persistent standstill on commitments that would allow for progress toward reforms directed at the expansion and strengthening of democracy."

    How do you answer?

  • Ivan Duque:

    Well, in the United States, there was a very important phrase that was used by many politicians that said that, in politics, you are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.

    And it through facts that we respond to this question. And I think the most important thing to say is that, a few days ago, the ombudsperson of Colombia published a report about the implementation of the peace accords. And it was clear in a statement where he said, in the last three years of the Duque administration, there has been more advancements on the implementation than on the previous 20 months implementation during the government that signed the agreement.

    We are committed not only to have all the investments in the rural areas. We're committed to having reintegration. But we're also committed that the principles of truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition are the ones that lead this process in order to be successful.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the one other area I do want to ask you about, President Duque, has to do with refugees from Afghanistan.

    Right now, your country, Colombia, has agreed to accept around 4,000. Are you confident that there will be a home for these refugees somewhere else, in the United States? And if they want to stay in Colombia, are you prepared for them to do that?

  • Ivan Duque:

    Judy, what is important is that, since day one, when we saw what was happening in Afghanistan, we expressed to the United States that we were ready to participate in the process of having them temporarily in our country before they get the migration status in the United States.

    And I think, so far, the United States has mentioned that, maybe due too logistical procedures and logistical costs, it might be easier for them to be recusing the United States. We have already made our commitment that we are ready to support.

    So I think, if the United States decides that they will come to Colombia, we are prepared to help in this fraternity migration policy. Otherwise, I think they will be here in the United States.

    But what matters here is that we share the value that purposed humanitarian migration ask something that is much needed in cases of turmoil and distress like the ones we saw in Afghanistan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Ivan Duque of Colombia, thank you very much.

    We appreciate your joining us.

  • Ivan Duque:

    Thank you so much, Judy. All the best to you. And thank you for having me on your show.

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