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22 Mar, 2010 20:20

“There’s an enormous interest in Russia in Latin America” – Guatemalan President

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom called Russia an international security guarantor during a meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.

The two presidents touched upon talks on a new strategic arms-reduction treaty currently being held by Russia and the US.

Colom noted that Russia is taking significant steps in the sphere of nuclear disarmament and acts as a reliable partner in resolving international conflicts.

Among other topics discussed by the two presidents were strengthening trade links between the countries, improving the legal basis for cooperation, cooperating in the spheres of energy and tourism, and fighting drug dealing.

The ministries and departments concerned are delegated to continue dialogue between the countries to sign a number of bilateral agreements.

RT: Good evening, Mr President. Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk here about this remarkable event that is your visit to our country. I would say it is remarkable not only because it is your first visit, in fact it’s the first time a president of Guatemala has come to Russia.

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: Well, for me it was a privilege, an honour to be the first President of Guatemala to visit Russia. This is a symbol of a worldwide change, a change in relations, regions which have to have mutual relations. This physical distance is no longer a problem, but there exists the human distance. We planned to pay a visit last year, but we couldn’t make it because of internal problems. This time we came with the intention to “open a new door” and share with Russia our country, which is a rich, multicultural and multilingual state. We have a lot in common with Russia and the main difference seems to be size. However, we are quite similar in terms of complexity and unity. I would like this visit to mark a new stage of evolution of our relations with Central America and the Caribbean, and to do as much as we can to encourage a rapprochement. We do recognize that Russia has made a great effort to become closer to Latin America. I think that our response to this incentive from the Russian Government will be a part of the visit.

RT: Why now, what were the incentives for the visit to be held now, not some other time before or afterwards?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: We had planned to make it two years ago. However, we had internal problems in Guatemala because of which I couldn’t travel so far from the country for such a long time. But I think it’s never too late. We arrived here in Russia, we opened an embassy almost simultaneously with my inauguration as President. We made great progress in many things. One curious thing: Guatemala saw Russia win the opportunity to host the next winter Olympic Games, it was a big celebration. I think that time there were more Russians than Guatemalans. In fact, it was a beautiful event. I remember very well the scenes, all the Russian friends who were happy after winning the competition to host the winter Olympics. Only God knows why it didn’t happen sooner, but now we are going to build new relations that are much more solid and firm. Guatemala has a lot to offer in terms of its Mayan culture, our Mayan ceremonial centers, tourism, Mayan hieroglyphs. There are a whole lot of opportunities between our two countries.

RT: The Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov during his recent visit to Guatemala talked about the intention of both countries to develop ties in all areas. Tell us what steps have already been taken to put this intention into practice?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: I think the first step is the real rapprochement; not only in diplomatic terms, but it is a real rapprochement. Secondly, we are now closer in terms of security, the fight against drug trafficking… We have made good progress in that field. Actually drug trafficking is not an issue solely of Russia, or Guatemala, or Colombia or the U.S., it’s a global problem. Thirdly, our commercial relations. There are a lot of areas in which we can trade, such as energy, oil, and electricity. I think that in July we could have a commercial government mission to address the need of export from Russia to Guatemala and vice versa.

RT: You have just been in the Kremlin to visit President Dmitry Medvedev. How would you evaluate the results of the meeting?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: Very positively. Everything I thought about Moscow and President Medvedev proved to be true. Although I consider it was too short, the atmosphere was very friendly, very natural. I think it’s a good step in our relations. There is an awareness of the need to improve our relations, as well as regional ties. There is an enormous interest in Russia in Latin America, and I think it's time to stimulate it and take advantage of it.

RT: Talking about regional problems from the international point of view. Which do you think are matters in which Russia and Guatemala have, or may develop, common interests? Which political goals have already been met, or are to be met in the near future?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: Political ties have developed considerably between our countries. We are working for the development of The Rio Group, Caricom and other organizations, so we could create a unique organization to make Latin America stronger politically and economically, in fact Russia is already like this. It is a very big region with enormous potential in industry, aeronautics, and other areas. We’re very interested in tourism, petroleum and culture. A Russian scientist deciphered our Mayan inscriptions, by the way. Our historical relations are very important. There were chances we didn’t use because of historical reasons, but now there is a strong wish to co-operate.

RT: In such matters as conflicts, matters to resolve on the international scene, which are the potential areas of cooperation?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: President Medvedev was very clear about Honduras, and the coup d’etat in that country. He stressed the need to normalize the situation there. I don’t think there are any conflicts that could separate us. There is an evolution in Russia as well as in all of Central America. Russia’s experience in fighting drug trafficking is very useful, too. The problem with opium poppies has been eradicated, otherwise it would have posed a serious danger. Russia has very good experience in this field. And as we have just discussed, this is a problem that concerns everybody, not just one country in particular. The market is global, so the fight against it should be global too.

RT: As you know, after Georgia launched an armed offensive against peaceful countries, Russia decided to support the decision of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to declare independence. Some countries were opposed to this decision, others were in favour. Among those who supported the stance of Russia were representatives of Latin America. Guatemala didn’t state any standpoint. Today you are in our country, could you possibly tell us what Guatemala’s stance is on this question?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: Our foreign policy has always depended very much on our allies and friends. We also have a conflict with Belize. We know how difficult it is to manage these situations. That is why nowadays we want to be more moderate, more prudent, more reserved. And make it possible for the parties involved to resolve their disagreements before armed intervention. We believe that Russia will go the right way. We think that it is important to maintain a policy of neutrality when there is no clarity – especially in public. In the case of Kosovo, we have maintained a prudent and balanced policy, because we believe that it is necessary to give time to come to a solution. It is necessary to be a little bit more patient. We respect the stance of our friends and allies, and until they resolve their problems, we don’t interfere.

RT: And in that case what are the possibilities for a solution to be reached? Why is it worth being patient in such circumstances? What would be the solution?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: My father always told me: don’t stick your nose into others’ business. I think in these situations one should take time, we respect our allies and we don’t want… we have our own problems with Belize, and we hope to resolve these problems.

RT: Talking about Latin America. The International map is changing constantly. On one occasion you mentioned positive ‘winds’, as well as a tendency towards integration. How would you define the relationship between Russia and the whole of Latin America in this new political architecture?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: It’s an evolution, a change in relations. We have seen President Medvedev on many occasions visiting different countries, which was quite rare previously. We see it as a new phase. The Russian Federation plays a very important role worldwide. If I am not mistaken, Russia has 50% of available water on the planet and if someone doesn’t want to see Russia, it is because he is absolutely blind. The relations of the countries with Russia are improving, and Latin America with it changes, changes in its own Latin style, in different forms in each country. But for the first time every country is takings its own “model”, now we don’t have a general one. Although we are similar we are not equal. We have to respect our differences and share our similarities and share them in a good way. I have stopped counting the number of meetings we had on a continental level, on a regional level, and each time I see more harmony and less difficulties. More positivity in searching for what unites us and keeps us together as well.

RT: What’s led to this interest in good faith, in sharing and a wish for mutual understanding?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: I think it was a change in polarity. Also the election of President Obama has played a role. Russia is changing and Europe is also changing. On the 18th of May we’re to sign a partnership treaty with Europe. The world starts to have “good winds” or good times. But of course there are some fundamental global questions, threatening Guatemala in particular. For example climate change. In Copenhagen it was mentioned that Guatemala is one of the country’s suffering because of this problem. I would like to stress that it is a collective responsibility. Another problem is the financial crisis. Guatemala also paid its bill like others. The system of financial control should be improved. On the whole all the changes which I see I think are positive ones.

RT: What are the guarantees that these “good winds” or good times are here to stay? Do you think that there’ll be any challenge to these changes? Looking back to the 70s for example or in the case of Honduras, is it an isolated case or a symptom?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: I suppose that the case of Honduras was a warning that our democracies are still very delicate, I am referring to Latin America. Every country has a different level of force but a parallel may be drawn between them. We are proposing an extraordinary meeting of the OEA, as well as trying to revise the democratic Charter of the OEA, to have a protocol of reaction in case of such events. Anyway there is also the positive part: I think that the reaction of all Latin America was amazing – unanimous, firm. Fortunately, the democratic elections in Honduras took place before the confrontation. We are trying to normalize our relations with Honduras, it is our neighbour, and it is a poor country which can’t be isolated for a long time.

RT: Latin America can be calm that cases such as those of the 70s won’t happen again?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: I am sure they can’t take place again. The example of Honduras opened the eyes of the blind ones. The United States is not willing to rewind to the past. Brazil and Mexico are very strong countries, and others like Colombia or Chile are getting stronger and stronger. I underline that the key lies in the respect of differences. Democratic elections and the whole democratic system is the path we have taken and should follow.

RT: Can we say that from that time the opposition started using more democratic methods in its political fight?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: In the case of Guatemala, we are the first socialist government in 50 years, this has effects on society, like a 37% increase in the education level, better healthcare and also in the sector of energy, etc. Although some of the past still lingers in the present. I am sure it will depend on the leaders of the government as well as the opposition to have the maturity to look forward and not return to the schemes which have never given any positive results to our society.

RT: What are the opposition’s methods, in your opinion?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: The political system must evolve to overcome the post-war period and become a more modern country. Also there is the important matter of popularization and of course the leading role of the president in the search for dialogue, reunification of the country, and the democratic participation of the people. In Guatemala the internal conflict lasted for 36 years and it produced this political polarization in various generations, so reconciliation will take time .

RT: Some specialists in the field of Latin America think that the influence of the United States in the region is decreasing and Latin American countries are becoming more independent. Do you agree?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: I totally agree, and I am saying it as President. I think it is because of two reasons: the countries have developed themselves, and their democratic systems. The United States has also changed its vision of Latin America. President Obama visited Mexico immediately after taking power, which sent a very clear message. The meeting of the Americas, the official visits of several Latin-American Presidents, like Lula have also demonstrated positive change. In conclusion I think that we are all in search of some third option when we will all be able to live together much more calmly and harmoniously. Of course it’s difficult, everybody carries on his shoulders his history, culture, his problems, animosities, happy moments but we also have a common history and things to overcome. This task is for the young ones, while ours is to pass on to them those historical events.

RT: How would you define the politics of the United States towards Latin America from the moment Obama came to power?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: There has been positive change. In Guatemala there is only one possible term of presidency, and in my case relations have been about total respect. There is no pressure. We were the first democratic government in Latin America. After a revolution we had a 2nd period but then our country was invaded and this “democratic spring” was taken away from us, which provoked the war, the confrontation, etc. These wounds are still open, there are still debts to pay and to be paid. But a democratic government in search of dialogue must fight for the unanimity of its own country and a good relationship with the United States. With Russia we never had problems and relations are getting stronger.

RT: You say that with Russia there are no problems, with the United State there is a search for dialogue. What are the main areas where these good relations with the countries have been appreciated and those where dialogue couldn’t be achieved?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: During my presidency there was no direct confrontation at all, of course there are some problems with the marketing of products, or migration. More than one million people have left Guatemala for the United States. We hope that the immigration reforms of President Obama will prove successful, thus guaranteeing a better life to our citizens abroad. We also face complicated situations with people in Ecuador and El Salvador, who go through Guatemala to reach the north. We have the same problems. We have to observe the laws. I think that the next few years will be a time of understanding, there will be problems, but I think we are moving towards a much more organized world. We have to observe the laws. I think that the next few years will be the time of understanding, there will be problems, but I think we are moving towards a much more organized world.

RT: To tell you the truth your words sound rather hopeful.

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: Well, I am not just talking about some dreams or hopes, neither me nor the Russian president think so, I can see the difference and his readiness for the creation of union and harmony.

RT: And before you leave, could you let me put aside official questions, and talk about informal ones. This is your first visit to Russia. And even though you have spent so little time here, could you share your feelings towards this country, your impressions from your meeting with the President? Have you had the possibility to raise other topics apart from policy issues during this meeting?

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: Well, for example I have learnt that Russians are fond of chocolate. I didn’t know that chocolate is so popular in this country. And as for the President, he is quite young, and very observant. He told me about his son, and we talked about our families. To tell the truth, every minute I spent with that person, I felt at home: from the placing of floral tributes on the monument of the Unknown Soldier, to the visit to the Patriarch. But also I felt a little bit uneasy because of my lack of knowledge of Russian. But the people of this country are very attentive, kind and hospitable. And I leave Russia with a strong conviction that we have much more in common than I thought. And this is great.

RT: I would like to thank you, we were pleased to have this rare opportunity to talk to you. We thank you for your clarity, and your positive mood. Thank you so much.

Alvaro Colom Caballeros: Thank you, RT: for such an opportunity to be here. Good luck.

Read also – Guatemala Wants Russian Arms in Exchange for Coffee and Sugar