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21 June, 2024
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UN envoy completes three rounds of talks, grasps impasse

Cuellar: From Colombian peace process to Cyprus mediation

Yiannis Ioannou

Yiannis Ioannou

Just before the beginning of the year, the name of former Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar, who served from 2010 to 2018, was heard in the corridors of New York as a potential candidate for Antonio Guterres' Personal Envoy for the Cyprus problem, it was clear to United Nations officials that she was a diplomat from the "top shelf."

Ms. Holguin was renowned for her successful involvement in the Colombian peace process (2012-2016), which led to the disarmament of the FARC rebels in 2016, as well as her extensive experience within the UN. She understood the complexities of Cyprus, an issue unresolved for half a century and known as a "graveyard" for UN special envoys due to their repeated failures, especially following the deadlock after 2017. Five months after her appointment and three visits to Cyprus, it remains to be seen whether Ms. Holguin, who transitioned from the jungles of Colombia to the dust-filled Nicosia, will be another UN diplomat who stumbles on the Cyprus issue or a catalyst who unlocks the impasse.

A brilliant career
Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar, aged 60, married with a son from her second marriage, was born in Colombia in 1963, shortly before her country plunged into a prolonged civil war marked by Marxist guerrillas and drug cartels, epitomised by Pablo Escobar. Ms. Holguin comes from a prominent bourgeois family of Spanish Catholic landowners (the Mallarino lineage), which has produced two Colombian presidents, Carlos-Maria Holguin (1888-1892) and Jorge Holguin (1909, 1921-1922). Both ancestors served as interim presidents during periods of political instability. Jorge Holguin is noted for the 1905 Holguin-Avebury treaty, which helped rescue Colombia economically from London and integrated it into the Western sphere of influence, particularly the United States, until its postwar primacy.

With this distinguished background, Ms. Holguin entered the diplomatic service of Colombia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, holding top positions (including Permanent UN Delegate and Ambassador to Venezuela) before being appointed Foreign Minister in 2010. She managed both the Andean crisis (2008) and the challenging peace process to disarm the FARC rebels. The 2016 agreement elevated her to an exclusive club of internationally recognised mediators/negotiators and earned Colombia's then-President Santos the Nobel Peace Prize.

What she showed in Cyprus
In Cyprus, experienced interlocutors described Ms. Holguin as a personal envoy dedicated to breaking the deadlock with three key characteristics: 1) comprehensive knowledge of the Cyprus problem and thorough preparation. Ms. Holguin travelled to Greece, Turkey, the UK, Germany, France, the EU headquarters in Brussels, and Moscow before returning to Cyprus for her third visit. She met extensively with business leaders and civil society groups. 2) Discretion and seriousness regarding the extent of leaks from her communications, coupled with caution in her public statements. Only in an interview with "K" after her third visit did she signal the difficulties each side faced, noting the Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar's refusal and President Nikos Christodoulides's potential for greater action. 3) Persuasion, conveying to her interlocutors the critical juncture the Cyprus problem has reached after a seven-year absence of dialogue.

Although Ms. Holguin has not yet secured a joint meeting between the two leaders, she appears determined and capable of pushing in that direction, drawing on her Colombian experience to overcome obstacles, particularly regarding the intransigence of Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar.

Her next moves
After three visits to Nicosia and consultations with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, Ms. Holguin has, reportedly, developed a comprehensive understanding of the current Cyprus impasse and the political dynamics in each community. This was evident in her statements last Monday after her second meeting with President Christodoulides and the messages she conveyed in an exclusive interview with "K". She plans to explain this framework to the permanent members of the Security Council (P5) and to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Her findings will be detailed in a forthcoming report to the organisation.

Sources from "K" suggest that, barring unexpected developments, Ms. Holguin will focus her pressure on the Secretary-General, urging him to take an initiative in the autumn, potentially during or after the UN General Assembly in New York. This could pave the way for her return to Cyprus before the end of the year and a possible trilateral or five-party conference on the Cyprus problem. Given the current state of the Cyprus issue, Ms. Holguin seems poised to be a crucial figure, potentially one of the last to be involved as a personal envoy or special mediator if the stalemate persists.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  Turkey

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