LA VOLUNTAD DEL PUEBLO

Colombia 2017 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to Luís Guillermo Solís Rivera, President of Costa Rica, on respecting the sovereign power of the Colombian people, the critical areas of Caribbean security where both countries can work together, and the importance of burgeoning industrial ties between Colombia and Costa Rica.

 Luís Guillermo Solís Rivera
BIOGRAPHY
Luís Guillermo Solís Rivera has been President of Costa since 2014. Previously, he worked as a foreign ministry official from 1986 to 1990, and played a key role in drafting a Central American peace plan brokered by Costa Rica's former President Oscar Arias Sanchez. He has also served in delegations to the UN, the Organization of American States, and the EU.

What are your priorities in the region?

Central America and the Caribbean naturally relate well to one another. I like to think of the immediate region almost as an extension of our local markets, since it is an area in which we compete particularly well. Obviously, the US and Europe are significant markets; over 50% of what we import and export is to and from the US. We are probably the largest partner of the EU in Central America, which is significant in terms of our exports. We are also active with Latin America beyond the greater Caribbean area. Our relations with Chile and Peru are significant, and the likelihood of an agreement between Costa Rica and the Pacific Alliance is still likely, despite our significant deficit. Again, we are interested in pursuing trade relations with Asia. We have an FTA with China, which is huge. We also have a longstanding relationship with Japan that we are interested in strengthening.

In August 2016, the Costa Rican-Colombian FTA went into effect. What short-term benefits do you expect from this agreement?

Among other things, I am expecting to have a wide variety of industrial goods in better conditions for Costa Rica. Up until recently, Colombia had a huge internal market that did not make it necessary for the country to expand. They kept all of those products inside. Later, however, they made an upgrade, changed their vision, and found they could compete favorably in the external sector and have been providing these products ever since. It is positive to have them. On the other hand, just as with Mexico, we also share the greater Central American Caribbean basin, which means we have a lot at stake to deal with Colombia in terms of security issues, especially drug trafficking. They have been providing extraordinary resources to us in terms of public security through their police. We receive training from them, and their experience has been positive

How will Costa Rica further support Colombia's peace efforts?

We will continue to support Colombia, and I said this when I was there. I went to Colombia to show our support for President Santos' initiative and negotiations. I was very much involved myself in the Central American peace dialog in the 1980s, and I probably understand better than many others the effort it entails to craft these agreements. It is not easy; it is not a jolly experience. You have to take into account a lot of suffering and sensitivities. Nevertheless, I still believe it is better to live in peace than in war, and this 52-year period was the longest internal conflict ever fought in Latin America—two generations or more of Colombians that never saw one single day of peace in their lives. It was worth pursuing this agreement even with the difficulties we knew it would entail. At the same time, I have often reiterated that the final word is that of the Colombian people; this was a sovereign decision. The president was courageous in putting this in the hands of the Colombian people after it had been negotiated. It was a risky affair, but he did so, and given the rules of the game and the situation that the country had theretofore been in, it has to be respected. The Colombian people spoke through their vote and rejected the agreement, but I am encouraged by the fact that everybody has voiced their support for some kind of negotiation of those parts of the agreement considered unsatisfactory. That is not going to be easy to do, but I have a great admiration for the Colombian people and for President Santos. With the support of the other parties involved and the 50% of the Colombian population that supported the agreement, he will prevail.