It is not in Washington’s interest to lose its friendship with Colombia, which, as Joe Biden said, “is the key to the hemisphere,” nor is it in Colombia’s interest to have a sour relationship with Washington
It is quite interesting to observe that followers of President Gustavo Petro celebrated his official visit to the U.S., and in particular, with President Joe Biden.
Of course, it is a cause for celebration that a positive relationship between the two countries has been confirmed. And we applaud not only the summit, but also the way it was carried out and the dignity demonstrated by the leaders. It was without a doubt a meeting of great importance for the two countries.
Nevertheless, we find it striking because Petro built his political (and subversive) career on the basis of denigrating everything that had to do with what the guerrillas of the 1970s called Yankee imperialism. We could say that it is a paradox to observe them so pleased for a handshake and pats on the back from the man who represents the country that the Colombian left portrayed as demonic for decades.
But that is history. Instead of looking back, it would be better to see that handshake as a positive symbol of changing times and one that, one hopes, portends a positive future for the region. It is not in Washington’s interest to lose its friendship with Colombia, which, as Biden rightly said, has been a cornerstone in the region for the U.S.; nor is it in Colombia’s interest to have a sour relationship with Washington.
The visit took place within the framework of cordiality and respect that has characterized the relationship between the two governments. The presidents have tried to highlight the points on which they agree, but important differences were also raised. Among shared concerns are those related to climate change, energy policies and the burning issue of migration; however, the most significant of issues addressed dealt with anti-drug policies and Venezuela.
Regarding the fight against drugs, Petro has been quite critical of prohibition, which has failed to yield major results in interdiction, and he opposes taking action against the farmers who grow coca. These approaches fail to resonate with U.S. officials, who for years have been defending eradication to undermine the production capacity of the cartels. Another point of contention has to do with those drug lords for whom the U.S. requests extradition. Petro does not want to hand them over because he seeks to negotiate with them himself in a plan he calls “Total Peace.”
The other concern is Venezuela. Petro urged Biden not to isolate Nicolás Maduro and to gradually and progressively remove the sanctions so that Venezuelans can decide their own destiny without pressure. But Biden, rather than responding, said he may review the situation for evidence of a sincere movement toward a return to democracy in Venezuela.
Next Tuesday, a summit between the Venezuelan opposition and government will take place in Bogotá, mediated by the Petro government and with the participation of two important officials, a U.S. member of Congress and representatives from a number of other countries.
The process is just beginning; we will see if Petro is interested in washing his hands of a dictatorship like that of Maduro — and whether Maduro will actually agree to free and transparent elections and accept the will of the ballot box.
Migration stands out as an issue of mutual concern. Biden thanked Petro for “the hospitality and support Colombia continues to show to Venezuelan refugees.” And he took action by announcing a campaign in which the U.S., Panama and Venezuela intend to curb illegal immigration through the dangerous jungle trails of the Darién Gap, where the flow of migrants is multiplying monthly despite all the tragedies occurring there. One hopes that this cooperation between the three countries will yield results, for the cost in lives in very high. The latest news, however, shows that while the Darién Gap is being watched, migrants are seeking other routes — for example, the sea via San Andrés.
It could be said that Biden is one of the most knowledgeable U.S. presidents about our country. It should be remembered that he has visited our country on several occasions, and that as a senator he was one of the strong supporters of Plan Colombia, voting in favor of it.
The courtesy shown during this meeting with Petro should not be surprising but should be expected from a political leader who believes that Colombia is a country whose progress and stability can be an example for the good of the entire continent. His central message was that the two countries seek “a united, equal, democratic and economically prosperous” Western Hemisphere, to which Petro added that there are many things on their common agenda that require that they get down to work now.
How much of this polite exchange will turn into action? As for now, Petro has asked, and Biden has smiled.