Peru, the second country after Colombia to accept the most refugees from Venezuela, has so far taken in 800,000 Venezuelans escaping their nation’s crushing economic and political crisis. But the Peruvian government has recently changed its travel requirements, asking migrants and refugees to have a humanitarian visa and a passport to enter the country.
Despite the change, Peru is focusing on helping its close neighbor, Colombia, to maintain its 2016 peace agreement, as president of the Security Council in July. To show its support, Peru — in conjunction with Britain — is taking fellow Council members to Colombia to see how well the peace deal between the government and the former rebel group, FARC, is being carried out.
The Council last traveled to Colombia in May 2017, when Uruguay was rotating president of the Council and the peace pact was just beginning. Some members of the FARC have since rearmed, and more than one million Venezuelans have fled to Colombia. (The UN has a verification mission in Colombia, established in September 2017.)
“The first [trip] took place at the very beginning of the peace process, now it’s a different moment,” Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, Peru’s ambassador to the UN, said in an interview with PassBlue. “Before, the priority was the delivery of arms by the armed group [FARC]; this time, it’s going to be more about reintegration and other challenges the Security Council is united on regarding Colombia.”
Peru has six months left as an elected member of the Council, but the country’s priorities are in line with its agenda during its first presidency, in April 2018: conflict resolution and post-conflict peacekeeping. As Council president this month, Peru will also hold meetings on terrorism and organized crime and on youth, peace and security, among the regular agenda items, such as peacekeeping mission renewals.
Since July 2018, PassBlue has profiled UN ambassadors whose countries hold the rotating presidency of the Security Council, offering a glimpse of the country as well. The interview has been edited and condensed, and a video of the media briefing the Peruvian ambassador held on July 1, 2019, is below.
Ambassador to the UN: Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, 60
Languages: Spanish, English, French
Education: B.A. in international relations, Diplomatic Academy of Peru; M.A. in diplomacy and international organizations management, University of Paris; M.A. in international public policy, Johns Hopkins University
His story, briefly: Gustavo Meza-Cuadra was born in Lima, the capital, and grew up in a political household: his older brother, Antonio, is a career politician and sat in Peru’s Congress; his father was also involved in politics at some point in his career. The family’s achievements drove Meza-Cuadra to a diplomatic career. “That brought me to politics and international economics,” he said. “I decided to apply for Peru’s diplomatic academy and was then posted abroad.”
After being posted in France, the United States and Britain and working for Peru’s foreign service for about 30 years, Meza-Cuadra was appointed as permanent representative to the UN in 2013. He has since chaired or co-chaired the informal working group on financial inclusion and the prevention of natural disaster risks as well as the Security Council committee on counterterrorism. Having spent more than five years at the UN, he said the biggest challenge is the “distress among the biggest actors.”
As a former adviser for the Law of the Sea Affairs in Peru’s ministry of foreign affairs and a national director of Sovereignty and Boundaries in Peru, border issues is one expertise for the ambassador. He is proud, for example, of his work on the settlement of maritime delimitation with Peru’s neighbors Chile and Ecuador.
Meza-Cuadra is married and has two children, who lived with him and his wife, Sonia, an economist, in New York City until recently. His daughter used to work at the World Bank but is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Spain. His son works in the environment sector.
PassBlue spoke with Meza-Cuadra at the Peruvian mission in New York to discuss more details of his career, his life in New York City and what he hopes to accomplish for Peru’s final presidency in the country’s 2018-2019 Council term.
How do you like living in New York City? It’s a city where you can find almost anything, and it’s very impressive. I live very close to Central Park and I really enjoy it, but it’s also a great city culturally and gastronomically.
What do you miss the most about Peru? As Peruvians, we miss our food. Peruvian food has become an icon around the world. You can find good ceviche here, but it’s not the same because it’s not made with typical ingredients. Now there’s more and more Peruvian food abroad, and a large number of chefs that emigrate. Good Peruvian food is found in most big cities in the world: in New York, there’s Mission Ceviche, near the Chelsea Market. But there are other good places as well, I don’t want to discriminate!
This is your second presidency in your two-year term, which ends in December. What are your priorities this time around? Our priorities are the same as last year, in April. We are planning on discussing the issue of peaceful settlement of disputes. We promoted this issue last year and focused our intervention on the importance of international law and peaceful settlement. This is clear for us: most conflicts are related to development and poverty, so we want to look at the root causes of conflicts. Also, Peru is a young country, so youth, peace and security and women, peace and security are important to us. Peru is co-chairing the Council’s working group on women, peace and security with Germany.
Peru has suffered in the past from terrorism, so we want to highlight one important link, between terrorism and organized crime [a debate on the topic will be held July 9]. The links to terrorism tend to be different, depending on the region. In Latin America, they are related to drugs and narcotics. In other parts of the world, like Africa, they are related to human and arms trafficking.
What other special events are planned? The Security Council will go to Colombia, the second visit of the Council there [from July 11-14]. The first one took place at the very beginning of the peace process, now it’s a different moment. Before, the priority was the delivery of the armed group [FARC]; this time it’s going to be more about reintegration and other challenges the Security Council is united on regarding Colombia. It will be very helpful to have the Council again in Colombia.
Peru has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Venezuela during its crisis; will the Council meet with refugees as well? The situation is dire internally, and other countries are suffering from it as well — Colombia, Peru and others — but this time the trip is about the peace process in Colombia.
What’s the status of talks with the Lima Group and Venezuela? The Lima Group is a group of countries that are the most directly involved in the situation in Venezuela. We’re the neighboring countries, so it’s the region. We’ve been working together for more than two years. We highlight that it is an international problem not only because of the collapse of the [Venezuelan] economy, but also a political and human rights situation, and a humanitarian situation internally and externally because of refugees. The international community has accepted this idea, that [the crisis] needs to be resolved not only by the Venezuelans but also by the international community. We’ve met with the International Contact Group, [principally European and Latin American nations focused on the crisis in Venezuela], with whom we agreed on several issues, particularly the need to work on humanitarian issues and holding free and elections in a timely manner.
Peru has just tightened its rules on border-crossings, requiring a visa and passport. Why? Peru has been very open to Venezuelan migration. It has required huge efforts from the society and the state. The Venezuelans are benefiting from our education, health and other services, which is a big effort for a developing country. Now we are applying a humanitarian visa to have a more regulated migration from Venezuela.
You’ve been the ambassador since 2013. What is the biggest challenge the UN is facing? The world is now very divided. That’s because of numerous problems, [such as] issues in Syria, Yemen, Libya. Numerous situations demand an action from the Security Council and the international community. This is the biggest challenge: Working in a world in which there’s much distress among the biggest actors. That explains why we have been working very closely with the elected members on the Council. We try to find ways to generate more consensus and overcome these divisions among key actors.
The other aspect of the international agenda is implementation. When I arrived here, we were negotiating the 2030 [Sustainable Development Goals] agenda and the Paris climate agreement. Now the challenge we’re facing is implementation. We need to be ambitious.
Head of State: Martín Vizcarra (President), Salvador del Solar (Prime Minister)
Foreign Affairs Minister: Néstor Popolizio
Type of Government: Semipresidential republic
Year Peru Joined the UN: 1945
Years on the Security Council: 1955-1956, 1973-1974, 1984–1985, 2006-2007, 2018-2019
Population: 32.2 million
2019 Contributions to UN Regular Budget: $4,658,155 (or $0.14 per capita/year)
2019 Contributions to UN Peacekeeping: $2,033,760 (or $0.06 per capita/year)
Membership in Regional Groups: Group of 24 (G24), Group of 77 (G77), Organization of American States (OAS), Union Latina
2015 Maternal Death Rate: 68/100,000. By comparison, the US rate in 2015 was 26.4/100,000
2017 Per Capita GDP: $6,600; EU, $33,723; US, $59,531; world, $10,721
2018 CO2 Emissions (in tons, per capita): 2.0 (world average, 5)
Electric Power Consumption (1,000 kWh/per capita and year):1.3 (world average, 3.1 kWh; US, 13)
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts?
Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.