AP interview: Ivan Duque compares Maduro with Milosevic

Colombian President Iván Duque compared Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro in dispute with Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic while embarking on a diplomatic offensive to corner the socialist leader, and warned him that it would be a “stupid” mistake to make any aggression against his United States-backed neighbor.

Duke spoke with The Associated Press on Saturday before traveling to New York, where he is expected to denounce Maduro before the United Nations General Assembly as an abusive autocrat who is not only responsible for the humanitarian crisis in his country, but also a threat to regional stability for housing Colombian rebels.

“The brutality of Nicolás Maduro is comparable to that of Slobodan Milosevic,” said Duque, who urged the International Criminal Court to investigate the president in a Venezuelan dispute over human rights abuses. “Must end”.

The Colombian president avoided ruling out a military attack against the Marxist rebels who, he says, hide in Venezuelan territory. However, he said that any aggression by the Venezuelan armed forces would provoke an immediate regional reaction that could include more sanctions and diplomatic measures.

“If they consider doing something so stupid, they know what the consequences will be,” Duque said.

Duque has intensified the pressure against Maduro in recent weeks after a small group of dissident leftist rebels decided to break with Colombia’s historic peace process and regain arms against the State, arguing that the government betrayed the agreement it intended to put end just over five decades of bloodshed.

The Colombian ruler plans to accuse Maduro of violating a UN Security Council resolution passed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by offering refuge to the rebels.

The president in Venezuelan dispute, who faces a serious crisis, has repeatedly rejected those accusations. Although Maduro will not personally attend this year’s United Nations General Assembly, his delegates claim that they will raise similar charges against Duke, who will be accused of not taking action against illegal armed groups that plan attacks against the Venezuelan government from Colombia.

“The Colombian oligarchy wants to prepare the ground to undertake an armed aggression against Venezuela,” said recently the Venezuelan Minister of Communication and Information, Jorge Rodríguez.

Growing tensions along the border can have dangerous and wide-ranging geopolitical consequences.

At the request of the United States, the allies of the hemisphere recently dusted off a reciprocal assistance treaty dating back to the Cold War and which provides for the 19 signatory countries to help each other in the event of a foreign threat.

Foreign ministers from most of the nations that signed the Rio Treaty of 1947 are scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss the adoption of multilateral sanctions. Although the agreement allows a joint military response, Duque insisted that it is not the favorite procedure and that under no circumstances should Colombian forces be provoked.

“It is important that at the United Nations, Duque has that forum to present the evidence on the activity of Colombian armed groups in Venezuela, and it is also an opportunity to measure the views of world leaders to further intensify the pressure against Venezuela,” commented Adam Isacson, defense analyst at the Office on Latin America in Washington.

“However, due to the opposition of Russia, China and others, it will be impossible to reach the necessary consensus to treat Venezuela, according to the UN Charter, as a threat to peace and security,” said Isacson.

The crisis in Venezuela also affects the budgets of various South American countries after four million people have fled an economic crisis worse than the Great Depression of the United States. This large-scale migration of Venezuelans takes place at a time when Colombia, which has received the majority of these migrants, faces problems due to an increase in coca production and the execution of a controversial and fragile peace agreement concluded with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Despite fiscal pressures on education and health budgets, Duque defended its open-door policy, arguing that it allows Colombia to more effectively combat diseases such as measles, which it had eradicated but that reappeared with the arrival of more than 1, 4 million Venezuelan migrants in recent years.

Closing the border will not stop the exodus, it will only force migrants to travel along dangerous land routes that cross to both sides through the porous border demarcation of 2,200 kilometers (1,370 kilometers) between the two countries.

“The correct policy is what we have adopted,” said Duque, who contrasted Colombia’s response with the barriers recently erected in Ecuador and Peru. “If they decide to close the borders, people will pass anyway, but they will do it illegally and disease control, for example, will be more complex.”

Duque, 43, broke into Colombian politics in a few years – in which he was not so well known – thanks to the assistance of former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, the main detractor of the peace agreement. Duke was a senator before he won the presidency last year with a platform based on law and order and his commitment to modify crucial aspects of the agreement.

To date, Duke has not made any changes. However, he referred to a recent initiative that prohibits governments from granting amnesty to the rebels involved in drug trafficking as an advance that will prevent the impunity that, according to him, took place in the 2016 peace agreement.

Duque added that his government has increased eight times the number of regional development plans left by his predecessor Juan Manuel Santos, Nobel Peace Prize, while implementing a program that allows private companies to channel their tax payments to project financing productive in once conflict zones.

“We are not doing politics with peace, but we have a peace policy,” said the president.

At the same time, the murder of hundreds of leftist activists in rural areas has cast a dark shadow over the peace process.

Although Duque has increased resources to investigate the murders, which he says have declined since he assumed the presidency, he faced the cries of “murderer!” Protesters uttered when he visited London in June. This year, seven candidates for the regional elections next month have been killed, a figure that exceeds that registered during the 2015 elections.

“We know that we must have greater control, that we have to protect the lives of the candidates,” he said. “But sometimes when we have local elections, illegal armed groups are those who try to threaten candidates in coca-producing areas or where illegal mining takes place, because they intend to preserve their control over illegal economic activities. We know that pattern and that is why we are working in an articulated way with all the military and police forces. ”

Since assuming the presidency last year, Duque has seen his popularity steadily drop amid the difficulties of finding his voice as head of state. According to a recent survey, Duque has an approval rating of just 29%.

Although coca production has stabilized during his administration, after an increase for several consecutive years, it remains close to record highs. Vast rural areas of Colombia remain dominated by drug traffickers and illegal armed groups. Many Colombians believe that the internal armed conflict never ended and they fear a new era of bloodshed.

Duque says that he acts promptly to resume the eradication of coca crops from the air, a crucial element in the war on drugs that lasted two decades with support from the United States and that Santos suspended in 2015 citing the health consequences of numerous people. However, Duke refused to set a date for the resumption of those flights. The president minimized the effectiveness of what he described as “precision spraying” when he said that this modality is a valuable tool in areas where the existence of landmines and armed groups represents a danger to military forces and manual coca eradicators They reach those places.

“There is no magic solution,” said the president in reference to the fight against illegal crops. “There is not just one solution. It is a combination of means. ”

With AP information

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