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Press room

Speech by the President of the Republic, Juan Manuel Santos, about the situation in the border with Venezuela

Bogotá, September 1, 2015 (SIG).

Dear fellow citizens,

A country’s foreign policy reflects the principles and values it believes in, and that is how our government has been.

Since August 7, 2010, I said that we would favor dialogue over confrontation, peace over war, respect for differences over intolerance, and, -something that is very important and essential- respect for human rights.

Human rights… those universal principles that stand above any regulation, because they refer to the most sacred essence of the human being, life, freedom and dignity.

We have been applying that foreign policy and we have done so –in particular- with Venezuela, a government with which we have profound differences regarding the concept of democracy and the economic model.

We have respected those differences, but that is one thing, and another one, quite different, is that our neighboring country is violating its citizens’ human rights and –even more serious for us- the rights of our compatriots who live in its territory.

Venezuela –as any State- has the right to close its border or expel people for security reasons.

But international jurisprudence on human rights is clear in stating that such legal authority has limits: it may not violate international law.

Deportations may not be discriminatory based on nationality.

Deportations may not be massive or arbitrary. They should be on an individual basis, provided there are due process guarantees and the possibility to appeal before the authorities.

They may not affect the rights of minors, or separate families.

And deportees may not be subject to unbecoming or inhumane treatment.

It is clear that none of these requirements has been met in the recent deportations of Colombians by Venezuela.

And that is not all. As reported by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, all sorts of fundamental rights have been violated.

As in the Nazi ghettos, family houses have been marked with a “D”, to be demolished thereafter.

When this infamy became known, the universal question was: Where was the world when all this happened!

Well, today –to a different extent- the question we ask ourselves is: Where is the region!

The properties of the humblest have been confiscated, or they have not been allowed to take their few belongings with them.

Families have been separated, leaving the mother at one side of the border and the husband at the other, or –even worse- separating the children from their parents, because some of them are Venezuelan and others are Colombian.

It is a scenario of inhumanity and cruelty we never thought we would live or see in our region!

International bodies –such as the UN and the OAS- were created to preserve peace based on respect for human rights.

The UN has a Human Rights Council and the OAS has an Inter-American System for the protection of human rights, with a Commission and a Court. Two instances instead of one… That is how important this topic is at the international level!

That is why –due to the serious nature of the topic- we asked the Permanent Council of the OAS to convene a meeting of foreign ministers, trusting that no one would evade a debate about a current and urgent situation related with human rights.

Unfortunately, ideological and monetary interests prevailed over humanitarian reasons. It is sad to accept it, but that is what happened!

It has been a setback –certainly- but we do not feel defeated.

When reason accompanies us, when we act with the truth in our hands, when the issue is to defend the dignity of our compatriots, there are many reasons to persevere!

If we suffer a misstep… we overcome it! If we are not heard at a setting… we will go to one hundred more! If a door is closed… we will knock on one thousand!

Because we are outraged, -justly outraged!-, and silence or lack of action are not –may not be- an option.

Our respect for the rights and freedoms of the Colombian people means that a setback will not stop us… On the contrary, it encourages to denounce it even more forcefully!

And we are also encouraged by the support we received from 16 countries in the hemisphere –16 countries which, along with Colombia, voted in favor of discussing the topic in a meeting of foreign ministers–.

They are serious countries, democratic countries, countries that believe in the advantages and benefits of dialogue and democracy, who do not evade a debate about human rights.

Today I want to thank them on behalf of all the Colombian people.

For the OAS –and for the continent- this was an opportunity to enforce the rights of the migrant populations, a problem we are seeing not only in Colombia but also in many countries in the region and around the world.

Two sister countries as Colombia and Venezuela may not get immersed in those dynamics of persecution against immigrants, they may not tread that road of xenophobia and hatred that other regions of the world are facing. We cannot allow this to happen!

I have personally seen that humble and hard-working Colombians have been mistreated. People who were only seeking for opportunities to thrive. As so many Venezuelans who have come to Colombia are doing.

In one of my visits to the shelters I met with a woman over 70 years old, just operated for a carcinoma in an eye, who was expelled by the Venezuelan Guard.

A 5 year old girl told me that Guard had hit her with a rifle.

Who could ever imagine that that lady or that girl are paramilitary members or part of a smuggling mafia!

The number of stories I could tell you are endless… the stories that we, the members of the Government and assistance bodies, and obviously the media as well, have all heard –heartbroken-.

There are over 2 thousand children living in Venezuela who have not been able to attend their classes in Norte de Santander because they cannot cross the border. Another right that is being violated: the children’s right to education!

And let alone those who have been separated from their parents!

On our part, the Government and the Colombian people will continue caring for them and supporting them with utmost affection and dedication, as we have done from the start.

There has not been one single day when ministers or cabinet or Government members have not been at the border, looking after the situation of our fellow citizens.

We went to the OAS to report the abuse they have suffered. But there are many more instances.

We will continue denouncing and demanding for the dignity and the rights of the Colombian people in as many scenarios as possible.

Our Foreign Minister will do it before the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

She will do it before the Secretary General of the United Nations, before the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, and before the International Organization for Migration.

And we will do it before the public opinion and the media of the world, who may not ignore this human tragedy.

Regarding Unasur, we had requested an urgency meeting that never took place, and therefore we have desisted of that meeting.

Earlier this afternoon, the Prosecutor General of the Nation informed me that –within the framework of his autonomy- he is seriously considering the possibility of filing a claim before the International Criminal Court against civilian and military members of the upper echelons of the Venezuelan Government who could be responsible for crimes against humanity set forth in the Rome Statute.

Specifically, these would be the forceful deportation or displacement of Colombian citizens who were subject to expulsion and other acts in violation of international law.

The Prosecutor General’s Office believes there are bases to prove that a possible generalized and systematic attack against Colombian civil population has taken place.

Furthermore, it is evident that the Venezuelan Government’s strategy is to blame Colombia for all its troubles.

However –as I said a few days ago- Venezuela’s problems are made in Venezuela, not in Colombia.

The accusations and the finger-pointing are so ludicrous, so far from reality that they fall on their own weight.

Who can blame a poor, deported elderly woman for the overwhelming scarcity of basic commodities the Venezuelan people are facing!

Who can blame the children that are being expelled for the incredibly high exchange rate or for the inflation that has skyrocketed over there!

And who could ever even consider that from Bogotá, with my government’s “consent, and turning the blind eye”, there are plans to endanger President Maduro’s life!

No. One thousand times no!

Colombia is a decent, civilized and democratic nation that respects human rights and international instances, which believes in dialogue and diplomacy, and it will continue as such!

If others fall prey of paranoia, we will persevere in acting with serenity in all our actions.

But we will not give in and will continue denouncing what is going on!

I am going to convene a Cabinet Council tomorrow in Cúcuta, and I am going to invite the diplomatic corps and the representatives of international bodies to that council, for them to have a first-hand look of what is happening.

I have felt the solidarity of many, many Colombians towards those fellow citizens who need us now, more than ever.

This –I repeat– is a time for UNITY. The people grow under difficult circumstances, and Colombia shall come out of this situation as united as never before.

On our part, we will continue deploying a firm and serene diplomacy, demanding respect for human dignity.

But diplomacy –remember- is not passivity.

He who is backed by reason does not need to shout to be heard.

Reason explains itself, and the facts confirm it… they are in plain sight!

The Colombian people may rest assured that we will not rest, we will not give up for even one second, in demanding RESPECT FOR OUR FELLOW CITIZENS, FOR THEIR DIGNITY, FOR THEIR RIGHTS… AND FOR THE DIGNITY OF OUR COUNTRY!

Good night.