Last week, a car bomb rocked a military base in Cucuta, injuring 36 people and putting the lives of U.S. and Colombian military personnel at risk. Fortunately, while no one was killed, this attack marks another disturbing incident in a period of instability in one of our most important regional allies. This act of violence is the latest orchestrated attempt to undermine President Ivan Duque and his cabinet.
While some of the protests by citizens were peaceful in expressing their grievances, the demonstrations were quickly infiltrated by leftist groups and foreign intruders intent on sowing division and instability. No one should be fooled. Many of those wreaking havoc today are not doing so to protest peacefully, but to delegitimize the Duque government and aggravate the bipartisan U.S.-Colombia relationship.
In key centers of violence, like Cali, we have seen reports confirming that members of the National Liberation Army, a U.S State Department-designated foreign terrorist organization, infiltrated the protests. They are joined by dissident Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, along with individuals linked to the Maduro and Diaz-Canel regimes to take advantage of the occasion and instigate the flames of violence. Although we must await the outcome of a formal investigation, last week’s car bombing in Cucuta is indicative of previous similar actions by these anti-democratic guerrilla groups.
U.S. lawmakers must not allow the unrest in Colombia to damage our relationship with the Colombian government. Far too many lawmakers have compromised on their stance toward Colombia in recent months, with members of the U.S. political left seeking to cut foreign aid to Colombia. A few weeks ago, the leader of the Marxist and pro-Chavez group Code Pink — who in 2019 were invited by narco-dictator Nicolás Maduro to invade and occupy the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington D.C. — was present at protests against Duque in the U.S. capital. The henchmen of the Maduro and Diaz-Canel regimes are eager to sabotage the Colombian government. We must never let these groups get away with this.
Now more than ever, the United States must support its great ally. The blockades across Colombia in the wake of the protests have created a series of devastating consequences for the country: food and gasoline shortages, delays in COVID-19 vaccine deliveries, damage to private businesses and impacts to the small businesses of Colombian entrepreneurs abroad following increased vandalism across the country.
The U.S. can start by offering support and deepening diplomatic ties with our friends in Bogotá. The U.S. should remain committed to helping the Colombian government dismantle criminal organizations, as well as combat the threat of the ELN, FARC dissidents and other criminal gangs operating illegally in the region — particularly those destabilizing the Colombia-Venezuela border.
U.S.-Colombia cooperation and the security of the Colombian people must continue to transcend partisan affiliation and ideology in the U.S. Next year will mark 200 years of bilateral relations with Colombia, demonstrating the strength and longevity of our ties. We must also recognize Colombia’s significant achievements in recent years, becoming NATO’s first partner in Latin America and its ascension to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The ties between our nations are based on democratic values, as well as a mutual interest in promoting stability and economic growth for our neighbors in the region. The U.S. and the Duque government have a common interest in defending human rights, democracy and peace in the region. We in the U.S. must make our support for the Colombian people very clear before it is too late.