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21/07/2009 - 11:46hs

Colombia awakens to the Arab world

The Colombian vice president, Francisco Santos Calderón, believes that the moment has come for his country to explore cooperation with the Arab world and tap into the existing potential.

Randa Achmawi/ANBA
Randa Achmawi/ANBA

Calderón: Colombia has not paid due attention to the Arab world yet

Cairo – In an exclusive interview granted to ANBA in Cairo, on his way back from the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), held last week at the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh, the vice president of Colombia, Francisco Santos Calderón, talked about the positions of his country regarding the group. He also made an assessment of the relations of Colombia with Egypt and the Arab world and stated that the Summit of South American-Arab Countries (Aspa) is making a decisive contribution to the establishment of closer ties between his country and the region. Calderón believes that the potential for cooperation between Colombia and the Arab world is huge, and cites the examples of Brazil and Argentina, which have greatly increased their exchange with the Arabs. Read below the main stretches of the interview:

ANBA – How do you evaluate the relations between Colombia and Egypt?

Relations between the two countries date back a long time. Egypt is one of a few countries that Colombia has always had an embassy in. We have had an embassy in Cairo for 50 years now. Unfortunately, my country has not paid due attention to the Arab world yet, and I believe that this is a mistake. At the moment, however, an opportunity is presenting itself with the recent strengthening of ties between the Arab world and South America, through what we have come to know as the ASPA Summit. We are starting to become more interested in the region. We are going to open an embassy in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) and we believe that such closer ties hold a huge political and economic potential for Colombia.

What does the ASPA represent to Colombia?

In fact, this establishing of closer ties is like an awakening for us. This is a region of the world that we have never looked into much. Colombia has always been more North-oriented, towards the United States and Europe, with little representation in the Arab world. Thus far, we have never promoted any specific efforts turned to the region, in commercial and political terms, and the ASPA initiative has really helped us to awaken to the Arab world.

Colombia, like all Latin American countries, houses large communities of Arab origin. What do these groups represent to your country, and what do they represent in terms of closer ties with the Arab world?

Yes, we have significant Arab communities in our country, particularly of Lebanese origin. Currently in Colombia we have approximately 700,000 people of Lebanese origin, who are descendents of the 30,000 immigrants who came from Lebanon to settle in Colombia in the late 19th century. Ten percent of the members of the Colombian Parliament are of Arab origin. We also have great businessmen, scientists, etc, of Arab origin. I have just visited Lebanon because I think that we should start to boost our relations and our blood ties.

In what respect do the closer relations promoted by the ASPA benefit Colombia the most?

With regard to economy, ours are complementary economies. We must do as Brazil and Argentina, which have dramatically increased exchange with the region. I believe that there is an opportunity for us to do the same. Nevertheless, there is also a political side to ASPA, which provides us with important possibilities to improve our relations and political coordination, above all on a multilateral level.

In the political field, how does Colombia regard the role of Egypt on issues pertaining to the Middle East?

Due to the significance of its population, history and traditions, Egypt is certainly a political power in the Arab world, and plays a key role in negotiations and the search for a solution to the conflict in the Middle East.

What are the fields that Colombia would like to develop the most in its relations with Egypt?

Obviously, due to the significance of Egypt in the international scenario, the country is very important to us in Colombia. It is a major player with a key role in the Arab world, and that is why we often work with Egypt in multilateral negotiations. Furthermore, in political terms, we, alongside Egypt, have always been deeply committed to promoting South-South cooperation. Economically speaking, Egypt is a very important market, to which our country might also sell its products. Thus, there is an economic potential there as well.

What could be done in concrete terms to realize this cooperation?

As a matter of fact, we are only beginning to know this world, we are taking our first steps, and we need to strengthen our political and commercial ties with Egypt and the Arab world. What I wish to emphasize, however, is the importance of the ASPA, which has helped us become more familiar with the Arab world. We have already had two summits during which we discussed very relevant issues, and that has been very important to Colombia.

You attended the NAM meeting in Sharm El Sheikh. What does this movement represent to South American countries? What is the role of Colombia in this group?

The Non-Aligned Movement has perhaps lost some of the strength that it had during the 1960s and 1970s. And maybe that means, unfortunately, that South-South cooperation has not been as successful as it could have been. In this respect, however, Latin America is now at a very interesting moment, with the creation of the Union of South American Nations (Unasul). All of the integration movements underway are starting to seize the existing possibilities. With regard to this, what is taking place is that South America is seeking a different vision from all other movements, such as the NAM or South-South cooperation. Of course, ours a slightly different parameter from that of those who want the NAM to have a political stance of refusal or confrontation with the United States or Europe, which is not the case with us.

*Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum

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