Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

News And Other Busyness

Latin Lessons Left Unlearned

PR and back-slapping as BP attend Colombian conference

Squall 16, Summer 1998, pg. 12.

WHILST ATTENDING a conference on the International Politics of Colombia organised by the Institute of Latin American Studies, Squall experienced another shocking encounter with the world of international commerce.

The Institute organises a conference on Colombia every year; however, given the scope of subjects on which to focus, without fail the debate centres on commerce, trade, investment and diplomatic relations, and attracts an array of Colombian Government ministers, ambassadors and sundry diplomats interested only, it seems, in sycophancy.

The long and bloody conflict between the army, guerrillas and paramilitary groups in Colombia, a country which boasts one of the highest rates of political assassinations in the world and over a million people internally displaced by violence, was seen to be a small inconvenience which hampers the heady world of international investment. Colombian human rights defenders were passed off as whinging fools simply interested in counting bodies and lacking an understanding of the dynamics of commerce.

Despite this, British Petroleum and its relations with paramilitary groups in Colombia was always going to come up, given the remit of the conference. Whilst the small group of British campaigning groups on Colombia, who had foolishly attended believing that human rights would be the subject of stimulating and informative debate, bit their tongues, Stephen Fiddler, Latin American correspondent for the Financial Times, summed up a particularly self congratulatory discourse on Colombian relations with the European Union and Britain, and casually referred to the death of prominent Nigerian human rights activist Ken Saro Wiwa as a "public relations disaster for Shell which BP would want to avoid in Colombia".

Meanwhile, any mention of the implementation of New Labour's "ethical foreign policy" by the few dissidents attending the conference, in the by now vain hope of prompting some kind of interchange of ideas, was either quashed immediately - an embarrassing side line which may have detracted from the adulatory air of the conference - or responded to in vacuous diplomat speak.

Who was it said that you needed to know your adversary in order to overcome them?