The King and the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, will hold meetings this Thursday with the President of Colombia, Iván Duque, on the occasion of his official visit to Spain, in which a meeting with businessmen is also scheduled. A visit that is surrounded by controversy on several fronts. The Council of Ministers approved this Tuesday to grant Duke the Grand Cross of Isabel la Católica, the second most important distinction of the Order whose grand master is, precisely, Felipe VI. Executive sources they pointed out to elDiario.es that the decoration is part of the "tradition" in the relations between Spain and Colombia. But the decision was not published on Tuesday in the usual breakdown of Cabinet agreements or in the BOE on Wednesday.
Colombian authors denounce the "whitening" of President Iván Duque at the Madrid Book Fair
The distinction has been rejected by United We Can and part of the Colombian community abroad, which denounces "the whitewashing" of a government under which hundreds of deaths and disappearances have occurred during citizen protests and which has been accused by Amnesty International and other organizations of a disproportionate use of force.
The Colombian president will be received first thing in the morning by Felipe de Borbón at the Zarzuela Palace, before the scheduled meeting with Sánchez at Moncloa, reports Europa Press. At noon, the kings will offer a lunch in honor of the Duke in the Royal Palace, which will be attended by the Prime Minister and other high officials of the State, as is usual on this type of occasion.
Already on Friday, the Colombian president plans to participate in a business event organized by ICEX together with the Spanish Chamber of Commerce and the CEOE, in collaboration with the Colombian Embassy in Spain, ProColombia and Casa de América.
The objective of the meeting, according to the organization, is to publicize the current situation of the Colombian market and business opportunities for companies in sectors such as infrastructure, renewable energy, telecommunications, digital transformation, tourism, urban development and agro-industry, in a moment of substantial growth of the Colombian economy.
The president will also attend the Entrepreneurship and Colombianidad Fair on Friday afternoon organized by the Central Consulate General of Colombia in Madrid, with the support of Procolombia, which will allow him to meet with members of the Colombian colony in Spain.
Likewise, Duque plans to pay a visit during his stay in Madrid to the Book Fair, which in its 80th edition has Colombia as a guest country. And precisely the exclusions in the list of writers who will represent Colombia at the Book Fair has provoked protests from the culture of the Ibero-American country, some of whose most recognized names have refused to attend the event in protest of the vetoes, but also of the Colombian community in Spain and the rest of Europe, for "whitewashing" Duque and his policies.
Division in the coalition
Duque's visit has generated division in the coalition government, since Unidos Podemos has been very critical of its management in Colombia. In fact, the party has organized this Wednesday in the Congress of Deputies a conference on the "very serious political and social rights crisis" in Colombia.
From United We can in particular criticize the "violence and brutal repression" of the protests that began in April within the framework of the National Strike that left at least 51 dead, more than a thousand injured and hundreds missing.
Likewise, the minor partner of the coalition had expressed his rejection of Duque being decorated during his visit with the Grand Cross of Isabel la Católica. During a demonstration against the visit last Sunday, the head of the International area of Podemos and MEP, Idoia Villanueva, said "loud and clear" that her party was against granting "any medal of an order from the King to the one who imposed the mantle of impunity while they murdered their people. "
Diplomatic sources assured elDiario.es last Friday that "it is common practice to receive foreign Heads of State on State or Official Visits" and that "within the framework of these trips, the imposition of decorations is frequently used." The same sources assure that "this practice is clear in the case of Colombia, whose presidents have systematically visited Spain." In fact, a score of heads of State of the Caribbean country have received a distinction from this Order, either the Necklace (the highest award), or the Grand Cross, the second in the ranking. Among the former, Duque's two predecessors, Juan Manuel Santos (in 2015) and Álvaro Uribe (in 2005).
Other Latin American leaders are also part of the order. The last to receive the Necklace was the former president of Peru Martín Vizcarra in 2019.
Iván Duque acceded to the Presidency of Colombia in 2018, after defeating the progressive candidate Gustavo Petro in the second round of the elections. Duque was a firm opponent of the peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas and that was signed by his predecessor in office despite the fact that in a referendum the majority of Colombians opted for the no. Petro picked up the relief of Santos, while Duque has been the successor on the right of Álvaro Uribe.
Since coming to power, Duque has faced at least two major general strikes in Colombia in protest of his policies. The first, in 2019, when Duque's popularity barely reached 26%. In the second major strike, which began last spring against a tax reform, the president militarized several cities to contain the demonstrations. Dozens of deaths were reported and hundreds of people have disappeared without news of their whereabouts or fate months later. In May of this year, according to the Efe agency, the Attorney General's Office and the Office of the Ombudsman of the country had collected the complaints of 548 missing persons. 189 had already been located. Another 359 cases did not.