Editor’s Note: Francisco Santos Calderón, the ambassador of Colombia to the United States, was the former vice president of Colombia during Alvaro Uribe Velez’s administration. He previously held several editorial positions, including night editor-in-chief at the newspaper El Tiempo. He also founded Fundación País Libre, the world’s first NGO to fight kidnapping. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinions at CNN.
While covering the tragic and incredible events that unfolded at the US Capitol this week, CNN’s Jake Tapper likened the situation to my home country of Colombia. “It’s surreal, I feel like I’m talking to a correspondent reporting from…Bogotá,” Tapper said, over footage from Capitol Hill. At first, I was taken aback by the comparison, considering it to be unfair. Then I gave it some thought.
Colombia has confronted challenges to its democracy, and like the United States, we have remained steadfast in our commitment to the rule of law and respect for human rights. We are partners in democracy with the US, and this shared value is foundational to our long-standing friendship.
Colombia is the second oldest democracy in the Western Hemisphere after the US. As we watched the events unfold on Wednesday, Colombians felt the disbelief many Americans must have experienced witnessing the people’s house under assault. Our President Iván Duque issued a statement on January 6 rejecting the violence and expressing Colombia’s solidarity with our American friends. “The Government of Colombia has full confidence in the solidity of the institutions of the United States of America, as well as in the values of respect for democracy and the rule of law shared by our countries since the beginning of our republican life,” he said.
It has been decades since Colombia suffered an assault on our democracy like the events of this week in Washington – but we carry the memory with us to this day as a reminder to never take our democracy for granted.
Mr. Tapper’s remarks on Wednesday were an apparent reference to the siege in 1985, when members of the leftist M-19 guerrilla group took over our Palace of Justice in Bogotá and held our Supreme Court hostage. The siege and subsequent military raid was one of the deadliest attacks in Colombia’s fight against illegal guerilla groups, leaving almost half of our Supreme Court justices dead.
There are two important distinctions I’d like to make. The people who overtook the US Capitol this week were not an armed guerilla group like those who attacked our democratic institutions more than 35 years ago. And though, tragically, lives were lost in the assault on the US Capitol this week, we are thankful that the death toll did not reach the scale we suffered in 1985.
Instead of comparing these two heinous events, I’d offer this instead: Colombia knows how precious democracy is, and just as the US has stood by us, we stand by you.
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Today, Colombia is a nation at peace, thanks in large part to our American friends. Had you not had faith in your democratic partner over all these years and worked side-by-side with us on foreign policy initiatives like Plan Colombia, we may not be the vibrant, thriving, forward-looking nation we are today – a nation that is America’s ally in regional and world security; an economic partner; and a friend with shared values that start with our commitment to democracy.