Juanita Goebertus: "Privileging only trade discussions would take Europe away from being a beacon of rights" | International

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The lawyer Juanita Goebertus (Bogotá, 39 years old) is in Brussels on the occasion of the summit of the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) with a clear message: business talks in Latin America cannot ignore the discussion about human rights. With the final declaration in hand, the Colombian congratulates the two blocs for making references to the serious public security and humanitarian situation in Haiti, the need to resume negotiations between the government and the Venezuelan opposition, and the importance to fight the climate crisis together.

However, for her, the declaration is far from providing answers to the serious human rights problems that affect the region. He is especially concerned about the silence about the dictatorships in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela and about "the very serious violations of human rights" in those countries, as well as the absence of references to the rise of authoritarianism, the risks to electoral systems and the crisis of insecurity or migration. He also does not like that the process to achieve had "constant objections from the regime of [Daniel] Ortega” in Nicaragua about the rejection of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

“It is a sign that it is not possible to leave a regime like Nicaragua's adrift. Today more than ever, as a result of this declaration, it is essential to advance jointly in a process that allows the recovery of democracy and the rule of law in Nicaragua ”, he proposed on Tuesday afternoon in statements to EL PAÍS. Hours before, he spoke to this newspaper in a hotel in the Belgian capital near the building of the Council of the European Union, where the European and Latin American heads of state and government were negotiating the declaration.

Ask. After eight years without such meetings, the EU is looking at Latin America in this context of convergence of crises and in an attempt to counter Chinese influence in the region. At this summit we have Latin American countries of different political persuasions, which will make it difficult to make a forceful statement against human rights violations. From your perspective, which red lines should not be crossed?

Answer. Having all the countries of the region here is important, it is a step, but it should be a means to achieve, for example, joint progress around the main problems facing the region. It is essential that in relation to the issue of Venezuela, for example, there be joint statements regarding concerns about the restrictions on the right to vote and political participation, particularly recently the decisions about returning to official control again, the National Electoral Council or the concerns for the disqualification of María Corina Machado.

In the case of Cuba, we are very concerned about the more than a thousand political prisoners who are still in detention. They are open violations of due process, among other rights. And, of course, the serious humanitarian crisis that the island is experiencing. In Nicaragua, we have launched a group of friends from Nicaragua seeking not only to alert about the very serious violations that are committed daily in terms of not only arbitrary arrests, but expatriation, elimination of nationality, expropriation of assets of political prisoners... In end, and try to find a sustained and integrated solution from different countries that over time commit to seeking a negotiated solution towards democracy in Nicaragua. Being here together is an important step, but it should not be to ignore these very serious human rights violations, but rather to put more on the table and try to find solutions.

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Q. What has been the response regarding the proposal of the group of friends of Nicaragua?

R. In the case of Nicaragua, at least a glimmer of greater consensus. Although there are different positions, I believe that one finds governments both on the left and on the right that recognize that what has happened in Nicaragua is already an open violation of the rule of law, democracy and, of course, the rights humans. We have had conversations with different foreign ministers, with different delegations, both European and Latin American, and there is interest. I believe that there is a consensus that solutions must be found, but we are still in talks with each of the delegations to try to get this initiative moving, which is nothing more than the starting point of saying yes, we are all in agreement. We agree that this crisis exists and we try to find some consensual and articulated and organized solution, and not continue to think that what happened in Nicaragua is somehow a hopeless case.

Q. That region, Central America, is seeing a rise in authoritarianism at different levels: we have the case of Bukele in El Salvador, with a state of exception that has lasted for more than a year, or the persecution of critical voices in Guatemala. But yesterday we saw that Josep Borrell signed very succinct memorandums of understanding with Honduras and El Salvador, in which they do not mention these concerns. Are you concerned that these rights violations are not being condemned more forcefully in Europe?

R. This relationship, which is important from a diplomatic point of view, should contribute not only to highlight when there are different types of human rights violations, but also to seek solutions. In the case of Guatemala, we are very concerned about the right to vote and political participation. Fortunately, the Constitutional Court in Guatemala has reached the conclusion that it protects the right of the Semilla party not to suspend its legal status. This is a fundamental step, but the Public Prosecutor's Office, headed by the prosecutor, [Consuelo] Porras can continue with the criminal investigation against who is today one of the presidential candidates to go to the second round, it is a threat to the possibility that Guatemalan men and women freely choose whoever they want. Especially in a context of the use of criminal proceedings in Guatemala to prosecute judges, prosecutors, and journalists. There are precedents for the use of criminal law as a strategy to persecute those who have fought against impunity in the past and those who have exercised political participation. Establishing mechanisms for dialogue about what is happening in Guatemala is important not only to condemn this type of act, but above all to guarantee that there is a transparent electoral process.

In the case of El Salvador, we have been documenting the state of emergency, that there are more than 68,000 people deprived of their liberty in hundreds of cases, people who also did not participate in the gangs. We have documented cases of arbitrary arrests, torture, people who have died in prison, more than 1,600 cases of minors, not to mention the very serious violations of due process. Hearings of more than 500 virtual people without access to a lawyer, among others. And, of course, we recognize that the security crisis in El Salvador and in other Central American countries has been dramatic and has been a very severe scourge for civil society and the population in general. But the response to this security crisis cannot be one of greater repression and also a violation of human rights. So, direct dialogue with El Salvador, yes, but to put these issues on the table and to find solutions. We believe that a dialogue that simply favors trade discussions and removes the discussion on human rights from the magnifying glass would remove Europe's center of gravity from being a beacon in terms of the rule of law and the protection of human rights, as it has been. historically.

Q. On Monday, in the conversations of the parallel business forum, there was a lot of talk about not repeating the extractivist model. What should be done to avoid replicating these models that have not done the region any good?

R.I would say that we have two factors in front of that point. The first thing is to have a process to strengthen trade relations between Europe and Latin America. It is important and, without a doubt, it is related to the social and economic well-being of our region. But that shouldn't be an excuse for not touching on other sensitive topics. Last year, a person from the European Foreign Service told me: 'It's just that they can't keep bringing us bad news about Latin America. We want to move to a constructive relationship, a positive relationship in commercial terms'. Human rights should not be seen as bad news left untouched in order to address economic issues. As two regions, we should be capable of having adult, honest conversations that go through both the strengthening of commercial relations and the guarantee of putting on the table when there are very serious human rights violations and crises that arise from this type of violations that have to be confronted directly and that they have to stop if we want to have well-being.

That is one side of the equation. The other is a conversation about climate justice that involves recognizing that a sustainable development that makes and articulates processes of social, economic, and environmental development, has to understand that Latin America has immense potential in terms of its capacity to fight the climate crisis. , particularly due to the ecosystem services provided by biodiversity in Latin America. And preserving that biodiversity is essential to mitigate the effects of climate change and to adapt to them. Achieving this requires conversations with Europe and with the rest of the world about what to demand and how this biodiversity is protected, while advancing in the fight against poverty and inequality in Latin America.

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