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How Colombia’s foreign minister sees chaos in Venezuela, fragile peace at home

It's been three years since a groundbreaking peace deal between the Colombian government and FARC rebels. The agreement opened the door for land reform, political participation for ex-rebels and a crackdown on drug trafficking. But most of those problems remain, amid a political transition and influx of Venezuelan refugees. Judy Woodruff talks to foreign minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first: As we just saw, the slow-motion collapse of Venezuela has sent shockwaves through South America and beyond, no more so than in Venezuela's neighbor to the west, Colombia.

    Almost a million-and-a-half Venezuelans have taken refuge in Colombia, straining the country and region. On top of that, Colombia is still reckoning with the end of its own internal conflict. It has now been three years almost since a peace deal ended over 50 years of war between the government and rebel FARC factions.

    That deal set out ambitious targets for land reform, political participation for ex-rebels, and a crackdown on drug trafficking. But most of those problems remain. More than 200,000 Colombians have been displaced as violence continues, and the drug trade is again exploding.

    In August, conservative deal skeptic Ivan Duque took office as Colombia's new president, amid a turbulent economy, increased pressure, as refugees continue to arrive daily from Venezuela, as well as troubled prospects for lasting peace.

    His foreign minister is Carlos Holmes Trujillo. He's here in Washington this week. And he joins me now.

    Minister Trujillo, thank you very much for being with us.

    Colombia, a country of 49 million people, what does it mean to have a million-and-a-half Venezuelans there? How is it affecting your country?

  • Carlos Holmes Trujillo:

    Thank you, Judy, for the invitation.

    It's a huge challenge to us. Now, it is not a Colombian issue. It's a regional issue that has a global impact. But, of course, to my country, it's a real challenge, because of the demands of resources, of the needs that we have to satisfy every day.

    So that is why we are calling the international community to support more the efforts being made by Colombia.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what — we know that, when this initially happened, your country, Colombia, welcome the Venezuelans. But now we read there are cases of discrimination, even violence.

    How long can the region absorb this crisis next door in Venezuela? And why is it taking so long? With Colombia, the United States, so many other countries supporting Juan Guaido, why is it taking so long to change the Maduro government?

  • Carlos Holmes Trujillo:

    Two things, Judy.

    First of all, this is a process. Dictatorship never fall from one day to the other. So what we are doing is helping to create conditions that allow Venezuelans to go back to freedom and democracy.

    And what we are very — we're very sure about is that we have made a lot of advances, in that — in that sense and looking for that aim, that is to say, the change in Venezuela.

    Secondly, how many Venezuelans can we accept in Colombia? It's impossible to tell. How many Venezuelans can the region receive? It's impossible to tell.

    The main point is getting more support to doing all we can and working hard in order to help the change in Venezuela back to democracy and freedom.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What I understand, though, now is that many are saying that they think President Maduro can simply wait out what's going on, they can wait out until Mr. Guaido is no longer in office.

    After all, Maduro has the support of the Cubans, the Russians, the Chinese. Are these skeptics right?

  • Carlos Holmes Trujillo:

    But they don't have the support of the Venezuelans. He doesn't have the support of the Venezuelans.

    And the point is a change in Venezuela. The point is the support that Juan Guaido has in Venezuela. The point is the support that Juan Guaido has in the region, because this is a regional issue. This is not a global issue, politically, as such. This is a regional issue that has to be solved regionally as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it hasn't worked yet.

  • Carlos Holmes Trujillo:

    Not yet, because this is a process.

    But look at this. At the beginning of the year, nobody talked about the possibility of having an interim president being recognized by close to 60 countries. Now he's recognized by close to 60 countries.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me ask you about something else.

    President Duque's successor — or predecessor, President Santos, signed his peace agreement with the FARC rebels 2016. Here we are, two-and-a-half, three years later, only a quarter of the provisions of the — that the deal — that were part of this deal that was signed have been implemented.

    We understand thousands of militants have resumed fighting, little or no help for many people who lived in the rebel-held territory, especially in the rural areas. You have got hundreds of activists who've been killed.

    Why has this deal not been fully implemented?

  • Carlos Holmes Trujillo:

    No, because the implementation of the agreement doesn't take so short. The implementation of the agreement takes a long time, because the agreement is a very complex one to implement.

    The policy of President Duque is to implement the agreement, with the changes for the future for the implementation stage, through political consensus and institutional means. So there are a lot of advances in the implementation, as has been registered by the verification mission of the United Nations every three months.

    I'm going to New York this week in order to receive the new report of the secretary-general that makes clarity about the advances that have been made.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But we see that President Duque has called some of the terms of the agreement too lenient on the FARC rebels. And in many of the places where the rebels had disarmed, the government has not yet come to the aid of the community.

    So, you now have these new paramilitary gangs who are operating in these places. It is seen that any sort of peace may be farther away than ever.

  • Carlos Holmes Trujillo:

    No, the implementation of the agreement is going on well.

    Of course, there is a lot of work to be done still. The implementation of the agreement is in the national development plan as a horizontal — as a horizontal base of the national development plan. There is pluriannual budget already written into the national development plan for 10 years to come, 11.5 billion U.S. dollars. And there are many advances in every field.

    Now, as far as violence is concerned, of course, we have a problem. And there is a source of concern. Some regions of the country where the FARC members left, we have — they have received the presence of new violent organization that are fighting to get the sources of illegal resources that do still exist there.

    I'm speaking about narco-trafficking. I'm speaking about illegal mining. So the effort of the Duque administration is great in order to face those new challenges.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it's clearly taking longer than anybody expected.

    And now you have this guerrilla group that wasn't a signatory to the peace accord. This is a group that's grown larger, the ELF. It's operating in Venezuela. It's supporting the Maduro — or the ELN. It's supporting the Maduro regime, paramilitary.

    How concerned are you about this group?

  • Carlos Holmes Trujillo:

    That is why we are denouncing the presence of the ELN in Venezuela.

    ELN has links with the Maduro regime, as that regime has links with other terrorist organizations. We are making the denunciation internationally. And besides that, we are combating them with the legitimate forces of the state internally in our country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you feel, again, you're making progress here?

  • Carlos Holmes Trujillo:

    We are making progress.

    We are making progress in the security-wise. We are making progress economically-wise. We are making progress in the political and social situation as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very quickly, finally, one aspect of this peace agreement had to do with narco-trafficking, with the cocoa production. That production is up in Colombia. Why?

  • Carlos Holmes Trujillo:

    Because of some bad decisions that were taken during the negotiation of the agreement.

    President Duque inherited 200,000 hectares of illicit groves. He has been fighting very strongly since the very beginning of the administration. He's showing very positive results.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What does Colombia need to get it under control?

  • Carlos Holmes Trujillo:

    We — Colombia is under control. Colombia is a very stable democracy.

    And Colombia is, as many countries around the world, doing their best in order to solve the problems that we have.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Foreign Minister Trujillo, we thank you very much,

  • Carlos Holmes Trujillo:

    Judy, thank you very much for this opportunity.

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