THE BIDEN ERA IS UNDER WAY: WHERE DOES COLOMBIA STAND? The opposition demands the resignation of Ambassador Francisco Santos.

EL ESPECTADOR, January 19, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The inauguration of Joe Biden today as the new President of the United States and the hope for another direction in the powerful country’s destiny, stabilizing and strengthening its democratic institutions is in contrast to the anxiety and uncertainty we have in Colombia—at least in the political sphere—about the future of the relations between the two countries. The alleged involvement by Iván Duque’s officials, and by supporters of his administration in the midst of the campaign, to favor the outgoing President, Donald Trump, has generated instability and set off alarms about the fate of Colombia with its most important and decisive ally.

An appetizer of what we could watch for was an announcement by Michelle Manat, a Democratic aide in the United States, who fulfilled the concerns less than 15 days ago. In an interview with CNN, she stated that the opening of a formal investigation by Congress into the apparent interference by Colombian officials in the Presidential contest should not be ruled out. “There was evidence in the election just past of Colombian and other interests that wanted to see how far they could go. If we don’t stop that they are going to do it even more in 2022 and in the future.”

For Julián Arévalo- Dean of the Economics Faculty at Externado University who is an expert in negotiation of conflicts, State-building, and democratization–, under those accusations Colombia “is starting out with its left foot” in its relationship with the new President. According to this analyst, in contrast to Trump, we can expect the Biden administration to center its attention on Latin America and on the problems in the region.

“The alleged interference marks a bad start. It’s worrisome in a scenario where international cooperation will be fundamental, not just on the urgent subjects of the pandemic and the economic crisis, but also structural and long term subjects, such as the implementation of the peace agreement or the fight against crime,” he explained.

Far from talking about assumptions, the opposition Senator Antonio Sanguino—who also forms part of the External Relations Advisory Commission—warns that the presence of leaders of the Democratic Center Party was “crystal clear” in the Trump campaign in Florida, with the addition of the intrusion of Ambassador Francisco Santos in favor of the outgoing President. “The suspicions and the short circuits because of that improper intervention are an example of the evident distance from the agendas that need to exist in a bilateral relationship.”

Specifically, the strained atmosphere is added to the change in priorities; now they are not those of a Republican administration, but rather of a Democratic one (emphasis on human rights and not just on the war on drugs), and on what’s implied by the arrival of Biden, who as Barack Obama’s Vice President, openly supported the Peace Agreement with the FARC, the implementation of which by Duque is being challenged. In fact, more than two months ago, in the middle of the campaign, the now-President was talking—in an interview with El Tiempo—about the “limitless potential of a Colombia at peace”.

“The Democratic majorities in the Senate and the House will be ready for a human rights agenda and for the commitment that Colombia needs to make because of concerns about the crimes against social leaders and former combatants, as well as the use of government funding and technological resources to pursue the opposition,” added Sanguino (Green Alliance Party).

In fact, there are those in the opposition that are insisting that the first step toward repairing the relationship would be the exit of Ambassador Santos: “It’s not sustainable,” Sanguino says. Nevertheless, Santos confirmed to El Espectador that he had been invited to the inauguration through the Embassy in Washington and that he would attend. Regarding the request that he resign, Senator Berner Zambrano of the U Party—also a member of the External Relations Advisory Commission—invited the Ambassador to evaluate the situation and “examine his conscience” on whether or not it’s appropriate for the country that he remain in the position.

“He needs to become aware of how relations are with Biden and analyze that situation, along with the President himself in a thorough review. It’s not necessary that we should have to ask for his resignation, nor cling to positions that damage the country. The Ambassador should look at how he can contribute, and if the relations are cold, it would be best to step aside. However, that is a question for him and the President,” explained Zambrano.

From the governing party, the reading of the panorama is more encouraging. Duque himself has said that he is “optimistic” and he is even confident that in what remains of his administration, the relationship between Biden and Colombia “will continue to improve.” In that vein, Senator John Hárold Suárez of the Democratic Center Party and who makes up part of Commission II—responsible, among other things, for international policy and diplomatic matters—denies the alleged interference and insists that with the new President not only will the focus on the war on drug trafficking be strengthened, but also the review of the humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela.

“The relationship is being strengthened every day. It’s a political fantasy to want to be looking for a political interference in those elections. We weren’t going to change the fate of the United States even if we wanted to. Here we have a threat called Venezuela and we have to be looking at that. It’s enough to be looking at Cuba’s interference, and the case of the Russian spies. Biden should be looking at that and the United States will be a crucial ally,” he asserted.

In turn, Senator Juan Diego Gómez, a Conservative Party official, argues for meetings and outreach, not just with Biden, but also with Vice President Kamala Harris, in search of normalization of the relationship. “The war on drug trafficking continues to be important for Colombia, and 2021 will be the year to renew the fumigations,” he believes.

Professor Julián Arévalo concluded by pointing out that the task of reconstructing relations is up to Colombia and, to do that, it has to argue for a multilateral approach with an agenda that contains common elements, such as drug trafficking, the interests of the region, and a message of institutional stability. Starting from there, he maintains, will come the conversations needed to address the challenges of the pandemic and the economic crisis.

The Biden era is barely beginning, while the Duque era is nearing its close. Nevertheless, the challenges shared by Colombia and the United States persist and will last for a long time: the war on drugs, working for peace, respect for human rights, and commercial relations. Both countries are allies and the search for consensus and harmony—regardless of political differences—will benefit the citizens. Duque only has a little less than two years to make progress with the challenge.

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