In the middle of this year, when Colombia was still going through the hangover from the protests that left more than 60 dead due to police repression, the United Kingdom Embassy in Bogotá decided to invest 31,000 pounds sterling (42,300 dollars, approximately) in a public relations program to help him “establish new networks of influence” in the South American country.
An investigation carried out by the portal Declassified, which would have had access to documents from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained that the objective of this program was to “improve the perception” of the United Kingdom in Colombia. To do this, between 2019 and 2020, London invested more than $ 8,000 in a study of “soft power perception analysis” in that nation.
That previous step, which coincided with the UK’s exit from the European Union, helped the British embassy to find an “effective approach” for the campaign outside, while, in parallel, London continued its Police training program Colombian woman, severely questioned for her repressive practices during the bloody demonstrations against the government of Iván Duque.
The ‘green’ side of soft power
Opinion polls made it clear that the UK’s ‘soft power’ should target the environment, so it was decided to officially launch a bilateral program called UKCOL2021 in June this year.
“Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1825, the United Kingdom has been a historical ally for Colombia. Today it is our third most important investor and its commitment to our country is reflected in the contribution and participation in different social and environmental initiatives “, said then the Vice Minister of Foreign Relations, Francisco Echeverri, during the announcement of that program.
“Our strong alliance with Colombia reflects our commitment to a better reconstruction from the covid-19 pandemic, with an emphasis on sustainability, in order to ensure greater shared prosperity for the two countries,” said the British ambassador, Colin Martin-Reynolds.
The event was on June 17. The Colombian Foreign Minister, Marta Lucía Ramírez, did not participate because the tour of Europe had not yet concluded, in a journey that sought to restore the image of the Duque government, particularly questioned at that time by the repression of the public force against the citizen protests that they lasted for almost three months.
On the same day of the launch, the citizen Juan David Muñoz Montenegro died in Cali for the alleged action of the riot police. Despite that, the British embassy did not make any public condemnation of these violent acts.
The reasons for the silence, in addition to the probable political correspondence, could be linked to the financial and logistical support offered by the Government of the United Kingdom to the Colombian Police, at least since 2015. A support that, according to the journalistic investigation, would be extended to the Armed Forces of the South American country.
And it is that, on the eve of the announcement of the bilateral cooperation program, the Minister of State in the Ministry of the Interior, Kit Malthouse, admitted that the British National Crime Agency (NCA) worked in Colombia with various departments, including the National Police and the Attorney General’s Office, with the aim of “reducing the threat” of drug trafficking and money laundering, as well as of “other criminal economies linked to drugs and organized crime “.
Additionally, Parliamentary Under Secretary of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Wendy Morton, declared during an appearance that his country financed with £ 2.1 million (more than 2.8 million dollars) the program of “Police Innovations for Stabilization in Colombia“since 2020, to” support the transformation “of that institution by improving practices with a” preventive “and” rights “approach.
“New networks of influence”
According to the revelations of the journalistic investigation, the UKCOL2021 program would allow the British embassy to “foster relationships and increase visibility, in particular to new audiences”, as well as “review outdated perceptions”.
That visibility that would be exercised with the soft power of the agenda for the environment, would allow London – according to the declassified documents – “to create a conduit for a future influence and a better understanding of the United Kingdom among the younger generations of Colombians and other non-traditional audiences “.
The goal in the future would be to “establish new networks of influence and connections with more diverse audiences in Colombia “, which would facilitate” a better perception and a change in behavior towards the United Kingdom. “For this, the strategy would consist of a work agenda with” key actors “from that country to” boost “the profile from the embassy this year, in areas that also include security and defense.
One of the points recommended by the advisers was the promotion of the image of Ambassador Martin-Reynolds, through “a series of conversations with high-profile local activists”, which allowed him to reach a young audience.
While the British embassy focuses its energies on making its ‘green’ management visible in Colombia, UK companies continue to exploit the polluting coal mines that operate in the South American country.
“A large part of the coal mined at Cerrejón is likely to supply the UK: in 2015, for example, the UK imported 20 million tonnes of coal for power plants, 37% of which came from Colombia“, highlights the report ‘The rivers that bleed’, prepared last year.
Cerrejón is one of the mines with the greatest social and territorial conflicts in Colombia, and is operated equally between BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Glencore, which are listed in London. Furthermore, the project has been singled out by the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David Boyd, as one that has “seriously damaged the environment and the health of the country’s largest indigenous community.”
A report prepared last year denounced the non-compliance by Cerrejón and the Colombian State of the judicial decisions that recognize the violations of that mining company against the rights to life, water and health of the indigenous Afro and Wayúu communities that they live in the exploitation zone.
This event, which social organizations describe as “ethnocide”, occurs after the extraction of some 32 tons of thermal coal for export. This looting has not only caused damage to the environment, but has also resulted in the dispossession and privatization of 69,393 hectares of the territory, the extermination of 17 streams and the irreparable contamination of the Rancherías River, contributing to the water crisis in the region.
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