Federal Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier visited Colombia on Sunday and Monday (15 and 16 February) at the conclusion of his Latin America trip. During his visit he met President Juan Manuel Santos, his opposite number María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar and the President’s High Commissioner for Peace, Sergio Jaramillo, among others. Foreign Minister Steinmeier expressed his hope that 2015 would bring peace for Colombia. He offered further support from Germany in addressing the conflict and seeking reconciliation. In view of the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine which entered into force on Saturday night, Foreign Minister Steinmeier kept a close eye on developments in the region and spoke with all sides by phone over the course of the weekend.
On Saturday evening Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s trip took him to the coastal city of Cartagena, where his Colombian opposite number Holguín awaited him at the Government guest house. The trip had been delayed as a result of the negotiations in Minsk and the appointment in Bogotá had to be rescheduled.
Their meeting began with a gift from the Colombian Foreign Minister: Steinmeier was presented with a Guayaberas shirt, a typical linen garment from Colombia’s coastal region. After in-depth talks, the two ministers spoke to the press and emphasised the very high quality of their bilateral relations.
The inner-Colombian peace process and the negotiations with the rebel organisation FARC were particularly high on the agenda. Foreign Minister Steinmeier commended the rapid progress that had recently been made under President Santos. After more than 50 years of internal conflict, the Government has been engaged in negotiations with the rebel movement in Cuba since 2012. Steinmeier emphasised: “I really hope that this year, 2015, will be a year of peace for Colombia.”
Continued support for the peace process
The Colombian peace process was also the main focus of talks with President Juan Manuel Santos. Steinmeier assured the Colombian President that Germany “wholeheartedly” supported the Colombian Government’s efforts to move towards an inner-Colombian reconciliation process.
In the course of his visit to Colombia, Steinmeier also met the President’s lead negotiator in the peace talks with FARC, Sergio Jaramillo, in Bogotá on Sunday (15 February). Prior to the meeting the German Foreign Minister had stressed that Germany had not only been supporting the peace process for some time. He said that he himself was also eager to contribute to the reconciliation process within Colombia and its continued efforts to come to grips with the situation in the wake of the conflict.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier continued: “I believe this could open up new fields of cooperation. Coming to grips with history (...) is something that occupied us in Germany for a long time, and which continues to concern us.”
Steinmeier pointed out that Germany therefore had institutions, experience and expertise that could also benefit the Colombian side. Initial contacts have been forged with the Foundation in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen, among others. For this reason Foundation head Hubertus Knabe travelled to Colombia in November 2014 and participated in a panel discussion organised by the Goethe-Institut.
Cooperation in business and academia
In the course of his trip Steinmeier also visited a coffee processing centre and a Kogi village on Sunday (15 February). The Kogi are an indigenous people who live in the north of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Due to their isolation the Kogi, who number around 10,000, were largely unaffected by colonialisation and still speak the Kawagia language. One of the ways in which they are developing their economic independence is by producing coffee. The German Embassy is promoting the project and has provided new coffee processing machines. Foreign Minister Steinmeier visited the Kogi coffee processing centre in Mingueo and inaugurated the new equipment.
Economic development is a strong attraction
In talks with his opposite number Holguín, Steinmeier mentioned that German businesses had a keen interest in cooperation. Steinmeier said it was amazing to see what rapid progress the country had made. He added: “We are, of course, delighted, that through the fight against crime and the start of peace talks, something has come to life which had stagnated for many years: economic development.”
At the joint press conference with Foreign Minister Holguín, Steinmeier also stressed their close cooperation in the area of science and research. In this context the German Foreign Minister spent part of Sunday visiting the research institution CEMarin in Santa Marta. After a short tour of the research areas and laboratories, he met Colombian doctoral students working in the fields of biology, chemistry and geology at CEMarin. All of the students have visited or will visit Germany within the framework of the German-Colombian research partnership run by their institute. In cooperation with the Justus Liebig University in Gießen, the CEMarin is dedicated to training and basic research in the area of marine environmental science. It is one of only four excellence projects in the world organised by the German Research and Academic Relations Initiative.
Ukraine: First 24 hours of ceasefire observed
Late on Sunday evening, after midnight German time, Foreign Minister Steinmeier issued a statement in Bogotá on the situation in eastern Ukraine. He said that he and Chancellor Angela Merkel had been on the phone throughout the weekend “to ensure time and again that none of the conflict parties deviated from the agreement”, from the path agreed on in Minsk. According to Steinmeier the first 24 hours of the ceasefire had “for the most part” been observed. He said that the goal was now to continue the efforts to implement the agreements made in Minsk and to embark on the next steps, including the withdrawal of heavy weapons.
Steinmeier expressed his concern about the situation in the region of Debaltseve – particularly in view of the very different perceptions of the situation on the ground. He said that Germany was calling for more OSCE observers in order to be able to monitor observance of the ceasefire in future. However, he explained that for these observers to be deployed, a guarantee of security from the conflict parties was required. Speaking on Monday (16 February), Steinmeier said that they intended to join forces to help ensure that Debaltseve did not jeopardise the progress made in Minsk.
He described as “helpful” the proposal of a UN security resolution to safeguard the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. “That could help to stabilise the current situation.” He added that it would also send the message that the international community was united in its efforts to defuse the situation in eastern Ukraine.