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Latam Brief: Petro meets with Biden (April 21, 2023)

 Latin America Daily Briefing: Petro meets with Biden
Latin America Daily Briefing

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.”

(AFPBloombergAssociated PressReutersMiami HeraldWhite HouseCNNLos Angeles Times)

More Colombia

  • 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.


  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández said he will not run for reelection in this year’s October elections. The surprise Twitter announcement comes amid significant discord within the governing Frente de Todos coalition, with polls showing declining approval ratings for the president. (ReutersAssociated PressInfobae)

  • During the seven-and-a-half-minute video, Fernández never actually said he won’t be running for president, but he made that intention clear by saying that on Dec. 10 he would be handing over the presidential sash to whoever is elected, adding that he will “fervently work so that it is a partner from our political space.” (Associated Press)


  • Guyanase journalists have faced increasing hostility and attacks from politicians, part of what some civil society leaders call “a deliberate orchestrated campaign on the part of the State to silence and isolate those who ask reasonable questions and those who dare to express an opinion contrary to the powers that be.” — Just Caribbean Updates


  • Mexico’s supreme court struck down part of a law pushed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador that aimed to put day-to-day public security forces under military control, reports the Financial Times.


  • A Guatemalan judge ordered the arrest of three lawyers defending jailed journalist José Rubén Zamora, reports the Associated Press.


  • U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the Biden administration will announce preparations across the U.S.-Mexico border next week in anticipation of an influx of migrants after the White House lifts pandemic-related restrictions on May 11, reports the Washington Post.

Regional Relations

  • Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva arrived in Portugal today amid heightened tensions with the European Union, following statements suggesting the Ukraine bears part of the blame for the war with Russia, though he later condemned the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity by Russia. Analysts say the trip is a chance to show diplomatic balance, reports the Associated Press.


  • Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso told the Financial Times he would dissolve Congress and call early elections if legislators impeach him corruption allegations, which he said are false and politically motivated.


  • Bolivian prosecutors indicted former interim President Jeanine Añez for the “Senkata Massacre,” a case that accuses her of crimes of genocide, homicide and serious injuries. (TeleSur)

  • Bolivia is in advanced talks with Corporation Andina de Fomento — Bloomberg.


  • A former vice president of Venezuela’s state oil firm PDVSA was arrested as part of a widening anti-corruption probe looking into wrongdoing at the state company, report Reuters.


  • Cuba’s National Assembly ratified President Miguel Díaz-Canel for a new five-year term on Wednesday. Among the measures his team will be focusing on “immediately,” Díaz-Canel said, are food production, an increase in exports, and the development of the “socialist-state enterprise.” (Associated Press)


  • A U.S. judge ordered former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo to surrender to federal agents after an appeals court denied his latest motion to stop his extradition back to Peru, where he faces corruption charges, reports the Associated Press.

  • A new ecological certification for gold mining aims to promote alternatives to mercury in the extraction process, pay workers a premium rate, and reduce rampant criminality surrounding the industry in the Amazon — Guardian.

Costa Rica

  • Paved Paradise tells the story of the most remarkable ecological turnaround on Earth: the transformation of Costa Rica.” — Guardian

Jordana Timerman/Latin America Daily Briefing

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