Colombian President Gustavo Petro met with his U.S. counterpart, Joe Biden, in Washington yesterday. The two sought to emphasize areas of agreement in their statements to the press, including strengthening their democracies and building economies less dependent on carbon sources.
“We are going down the same river, a river that leads us to ever-greater democracy and ever-greater freedom,” Petro said. He added: “We have a common agenda and a lot of work to do.”
Biden said the countries shared a goal to build a “united, equal, democratic and economically prosperous” Western Hemisphere. “Colombia is the key to the hemisphere,” he said.
“The meeting was emblematic of the ideological balancing act the United States tries to navigate in its dealings with Colombia,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Petro has been critical of the U.S. war on drugs. He has deemphasized coca eradication strategies, which mostly impact poor producers and are favored by U.S. officials, and instead asked for U.S. aid for cocaine interdiction efforts.
“I asked for a bit more help on (interdiction of drugs), we need more boats, more tenders, more drones,” Petro told reporters after the meeting. He said that the key is tackling “the drug trafficking business community, which is done through intelligence work, tracing their assets and their money.”
Biden told Petro that the two nations are making joint efforts to combat drug trafficking, but at no time did he refer to any change in approach.
Colombia will have to lift arrest warrants against some rebel leaders wanted in the U.S., as part of Petro’s “Total Peace” policy, pursuing peace deals with the country’s armed criminal groups and guerrillas. The Petro administration is hoping to obtain U.S. support for economic development projects in rural areas that have long been afflicted by violence.
Biden thanked Petro for the hospitality and support that Colombia was showing to Venezuelan refugees. Some 2 million Venezuelan migrants are living in Colombia, which has granted them legal status and a 10-year right to remain. Colombian governments for years have protested against the lack of international aid to help their country respond to the Venezuelan migrant influx.
The two presidents also discussed Venezuela. Petro has sought to facilitate negotiations between Venezuela’s Maduro government and the political opposition, and has organized an international meeting of foreign ministers in Bogotá to discuss the matter. Petro said he and Biden had discussed the conference, yesterday.
Petro has advocated for “a gradual and progressive deactivation of sanctions” that would allow Venezuelans “to decide freely, without sanctions, without pressure, their own destiny.” The U.S. had previously said that any loosening of sanctions would come in response to “meaningful” and “constructive” steps towards democracy by the Maduro regime.
“We’d like to see more,” John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council in the White House, told reporters at a press briefing before the meeting began.
The meeting with Petro raised hackles among certain U.S. right-wing politicians, who are suspicious of his relationship with Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and Cuba’s government.
In a written statement, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio warned Biden to be careful when dealing with Petro, claiming that he is “an agent of chaos.”
- Despite right-wing fear mongering in Colombia, Petro is no Maduro or Ortega. What would the Biden administration do if Colombia’s traditional elites try to force out the country’s first progressive president, writes Ken Silverstein in The New Republic.
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Jordana Timerman/Latin America Daily Briefing