There are increasing signs that the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is planning to reduce its involvement in Latin America or even cancel it altogether. As one of 24 organizations, terre des hommes schweiz is calling on the Federal Council to renounce this step. Decades of successful reconstruction work are thus being put at risk.
An open letter to Federal Councillor Cassis and the entire Federal Council (slightly edited version)
Dear Federal Councillor Cassis
Dear members of the Federal Council
At the Annual Conference of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) on 29 June 2018, you, Federal Councillor Cassis, announced in your speech a thematic and geographical priority for the SDC. In conjunction with the article in the NZZ am Sonntag of 17 June 2018, in which well-informed sources report of a planned gradual withdrawal of SDC cooperation with the South from Latin America, this announcement is causing great concern among the signatory organisations of Swiss civil society.
Programs enjoy high recognition
The SDC's presence and programmes in Latin America, namely in Bolivia, Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti and Cuba, are highly appreciated both in the countries concerned and by the international community in general. Their long-term commitment, which uses innovative strategies and approaches to address the root causes of poverty, stagnant development, fragility, human rights violations and violence, is highly appreciated and urgently needed, especially in view of current developments in the region.
Economic statistics conceal reality
The undersigned organizations, some of which have been active in various Latin American countries for decades, observe with great concern the grave human rights violations, socio-political conflicts and massive criminal, structural and political violence that are bringing the region, and Central America in particular, to the brink of humanitarian tragedy.
The political crisis in Nicaragua has cost over two hundred people their lives in recent weeks. In Honduras, thousands of people, especially young people, die every year as a result of criminal and political violence. Colombia is also at a critical point in its development, which will show the extent to which the Colombian Government can implement the peace agreements negotiated with the FARC-EP and ensure the development, stability and security of the Colombian population throughout the country.
Moreover, it is well known that the qualification of many Latin American countries as middle-income countries overlooks the fact that some regions have enormously high and in some cases rising rates of poverty and extreme poverty.
Retreat would be a fatal signal
At present, many states are increasingly putting their national interests back into the foreground and withdrawing from international bodies and agreements. The SDC's withdrawal from an entire continent, justified by Switzerland's short-term economic and migration policy interests, is in our view part of these worrying trends at the global level.
Against this background, it seems to us that an SDC exit from Latin America would not only mean a severe loss of urgently needed expertise and support, but would also send the wrong signal from Switzerland in terms of global politics.
International credibility at stake
We are convinced that this new strategic orientation not only runs counter to the principle of solidarity and openness towards the world enshrined in the Federal Constitution, as well as to Switzerland's long-term interests in a peaceful and just international order, but also jeopardises the trust in Switzerland as a credible player on the international stage, which Switzerland has built up over the decades through long-term commitment and solidary relations with other countries.
Support where there is an effective added value
For the reasons set out above, the signatory organisations are concerned that Switzerland should continue to be involved wherever its support provides meaningful and effective added value in the fight against poverty, violence and human rights violations. We therefore politely ask you to refrain from unilaterally linking the future orientation of IC with short-term economic and migration policy interests of Switzerland and, in this sense, to refrain from a gradual withdrawal of the SDC from Latin America.
Alice Froidevaux, Guatemalanetz Bern, c/o Reformed Churches Bern-Jura-Solothurn, OeME Migration Division, Altenbergstrasse 66, P.O. Box, 3000 Bern 22