Gustavo Petro and Ivan Duque, at the ideological poles, have not coincided on practically any issue since the left-wing president came to power on August 7. This week there was an exception. Both the current president and his predecessor celebrated the news that Colombians will no longer need a visa to visit the United Kingdom from November 9.
President Petro anticipated the official announcement by thanking the United Kingdom on Monday night “for its decision to remove the visa requirement,” while Duque celebrated it this Tuesday as “a triumph for Colombia” and recalled that his government sealed a Post-Brexit Free Trade Agreement. The Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted in a statement that the decision places the country “at the level of the strategic partners of the United Kingdom”, and is a “sign of confidence in Colombia, its nationals and its institutions”. He also recalled the “unrestricted” support of the British government for the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement and its “significant contributions” to the protection of the environment, in particular the Amazon.
The British embassy in Bogota, for its part, explained that the decision was approved this Tuesday in a process before Parliament, “after an extensive and rigorous process of evaluation by different institutions of the British government that we have been working on for a long time. ”. Those rapprochements can be traced as far back as 2014, when Colombians no longer needed an air transit visa for flights connecting to the UK. The embassy stressed that the requirements to work, study and settle in the country are maintained. The change in the visa regime also covers Peru and Guyana, but in Colombia it has a very special flavor.
During the toughest times of violence, armed conflict and drug trafficking, Colombians carried that stigma on their backs as if it were also tattooed on their passport. From 1995 to 2010, the number of countries that required a visa remained around 164, and between 2002 and 2004 it reached a record 167 countries. But that number has been declining since 2006, and nearly a hundred countries no longer require that requirement for Colombians. The issue of visas touches very particular nerves in the South American country.
It is widely remembered, for example, that when Spain, as part of the European Union, approved in 2001 to include Colombia in the list of countries that required an entry visa, the measure had an indignant response from this shore of the Atlantic. Several writers and artists, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alvaro Mutis, Fernando Botero, Fernando Vallejo and Hector Abad Faciolince, signed a manifesto with a resounding promise: “With the dignity that we learned from Spain, we will not return to it as long as we are subjected to the humiliation of presenting a permit to be able to visit what we have never considered foreign”. Over time, most of the signatories failed to fulfill that promise, but the episode is illustrative of the climate of affront that those requirements brought.
The biggest milestone in the fall of restrictions came in 2015 precisely with the visa exemption agreement between Colombia and the countries of the Schengen area, which allowed travel to 26 countries of the European Union, in addition to Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland. . So the formal announcement made by the British government on Tuesday somehow closes a circle, and Colombians can now travel to virtually all of Europe without those requirements.
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“It has been a long but successful road,” says Maria Angela Holguin, the head of Colombian diplomacy during the two terms of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018), who managed to break down most of these barriers. They are long processes that vary from country to country, and they also come thanks to a package that includes not-so-showy processes, such as having a very secure passport that is difficult to falsify, she explains in dialogue with this newspaper. “When we arrived in 2010, they asked us for a visa absolutely everywhere, including Central America and the Caribbean,” recalls the diplomat. Also in Mexico, a visa that ended the process of free mobility of the Pacific Alliance – founded in 2011 by Colombia, Mexico, Chile and Peru -, which has allowed a notable increase in tourism.
The issue is sensitive among Colombians due to the sadness caused by seeing a nationality “more or less blocked by the world because of a history that belonged to some, but it is not the history of Colombians,” reflects Holguin. The long visa exemption reflects both an opening of the country and a different perception of Colombia abroad, values the former foreign minister.
Not everything is celebrations. On the one hand, recent complaints of mistreatment of Colombian citizens by Mexican immigration authorities abound. And on the other, the news contrasts with the current delays of up to two years to process the visa to the United States. However, the ambassador of the Petro Administration in Washington, Luis Gilberto Murillo, has anticipated that they intend to officially request the US government to withdraw this requirement for Colombians, a status that only Chile has in the region. “The Colombian population should have the possibility of being able to travel as a tourist to the United States without a visa,” he said, recalling that the two countries are “strategic allies.” The Colombian passport still has barriers to break down.
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