By Patricia Lara Salive, CAMBIOColombia, July 9, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
The Ambassador in Washington, Luis Gilberto Murillo, interviewed by Patricia Lara Salive, analyzes for CAMBIO the principal aspects of Colombia’s relations with the United States.
Who would believe it? The administration of leftist President Gustavo Petro has better relations with the United States government than his predecessor, former President from the right, Iván Duque. Duque had lived in Washington for several years and moved in Washington circles like a fish in water. And that’s not only because of the intervention by several members of the Democratic Center Party in favor of President Trump’s candidacy, which annoyed President Biden more than a little, but also because of the good work being done to consolidate the relationship between the two countries by Colombia’s Ambassador in Washington, Luis Gilberto Murillo. Murillo is Colombia’s former Minister of Environment, former Governor of Chocó, former presidential candidate, and former candidate for vice president with Sergio Fajardo.
Born in Andagoya, Chocó, specializing in engineering in Russia, married to a Russian woman, Luis Gilberto has been cultivating better relations with Washington political circles for many years. And now that is helping him consolidate the confidence and friendliness between both countries, regardless of Petro’s controversial proposal that drugs should be legalized, and regardless of his differing policy on the control of drug trafficking. However, the suspicion caused by the President of Colombia among Republican sectors in the North American Congress could create problems because Republican Representative Díaz Balart has asked that, given the uncertainty generated by the Petro administration, funds budgeted for Colombia be deferred. The Democrats oppose that, but the final decision won’t be made until the end of the year.
CAMBIO: You are seen as a kind of Maradona in managing relations between the two administrations of the two Presidents, Petro and Biden. There was a honeymoon at first. And then came Petro’s trip to Washington. But now, how is the relationship going?
Luis Gilberto Murillo: It’s a good time. Colombia has some alignment with the United States. We share values with respect to human rights, strengthening democracy, inclusion . . . And we have common challenges and objectives. The relationship has consolidated in President Petro’s term. We understand that both countries have had important changes that must be reflected at new points in the relationship. And that has led to building confidence. There is a great deal of friendliness. You will recall that the first thing that happened after President Petro was elected was the call from Secretary Blinken, the call from President Biden, the highest-level visit from Jonathan Finer of the Security Council, along with Juan Gonzáles and Brian Nichols, along with a representative of Vice President Harris, to lay out a very sincere dialog, very horizontal between the two nations. And that has borne fruit. There have been high level visits, from both sides, discussing the new emphases and consolidating emphasis on the ones where we have always been in agreement. And that led to the very important conversation that President Petro had with President Biden where they stressed the understanding and respect that the two leaders have, but there was also admiration between the two of them, and there was a lot of empathy. President Petro was able to share his political ideas with President Biden, and they were very well received. There are many points in common. That shows that the relationship is good right now. Obviously, as in any relationship with strategic partners, there are points on which we will still have to reach agreement, and others on which we won’t be able to agree, because we have different perspectives, especially on the issue of strategies.
CAMBIO: The drug czar said that the record levels of illegal crops in Colombia are a threat, not just to the United States, but also to other countries. What do you make of that statement, Ambassador?
L.G.M.: That’s part of the discussions we’re having in terms of setting policies. We have proposed some strategic areas at this new stage of relations with the United States. First of all, the two Presidents are convinced that the basis for the relationship has to be in our joint response to the climate and environmental challenges. The second strategic area has to do with efforts toward peace, democracy, and human rights. There’s another strategic area, that of human migration and mobility. That’s a regional challenge. The traditional areas are defense, security and control of drug trafficking. Obviously, that of economic prosperity, looking at the Free Trade Agreement, and where we cooperate on education, science, and technology, cultural diplomacy, sports, citizenship, and the support of the Colombian diaspora in the United States. In the area of defense, security, and control of drug trafficking, especially cocaine, there is agreement in the United States with what Colombia has suggested, namely, that drug control policy has not worked.
And here we have the results: the high demand is continuing; that moves the supply, and the supply is measured by the increase in coca plantings in the country and by the processing of cocaine and coca paste. Therefore, there has to be a new policy. We have discussed that with the administration in the United States, using the leadership in the Justice Ministry, Néstor Osuna, and with the Minister of Defense, Iván Velásquez. The policy’s new emphasis will be on a holistic strategy that is not measured merely by the amount of coca planted, but using other measures like environmental protection, security and government presence in rural areas, presence of the Armed Forces, protection of strategic ecosystems, access by the campesino population to titled parcels of land, and thus to new opportunities. That is a very different emphasis. The emphasis has to do with the fact that we have to do much more interdiction, and President Petro has been very clear on that. Especially riverside interdiction. And we have to give opportunities to the campesino population that has been involved in growing coca, give them some oxygen as Justice Minister Osuna has been saying. And fighting against the criminal gangs that work with the owners of the drug business, as President Petro has proposed. And that implies better cooperation, better intelligence, attacking money laundering, illegal enrichment, and striking some blows against these organizations.
This changes the emphasis in the conversations we’ve had with the U.S. government. We have said that we will go back to emphasizing manual eradication, as was set forth in the Agreements that were signed with the now-defunct FARC. There’s a push there for manual eradication. And the agreement with the communities is not capricious, because that method involves re-seeding between 1% and 6% of the coca, no more than that. And it supports the communities and gives them more opportunities. President Petro has stated that very clearly. We have to talk about substitution, but not just substitution of crops, but substitution of sources of income. For example, the connection between payment for environmental services in certain communities, restoration of strategic ecosystems, and legal economies. That’s the direction that drug control policy is moving in. And that implies that here also, we have to understand the fact that having eradication as the only indicator is not sustainable and cannot be an effective policy.
CAMBIO: And how are we doing with the indicators of seizures?
L.G.M.: Seizures of cocaine and its precursors have increased significantly, which is another of the subjects we have put on the agenda, such as controlling the importation of precursors into the country. There’s a lot of discussion, however, as we have not yet arrived at the levels we had in 2022. But what we have been proposing is that the policy is in a process of transition, where the emphasis used to be on eradication and we are turning to a very important emphasis on interdiction. And we have also emphasized a change in the allocation of funds for cooperation with the United States, so the country can have the necessary infrastructure to do internal interdiction in the countryside. The process of increasing seizures will be gradual because we are in that transition, but that will be the policy emphasis. The statistics have improved. The Defense Minister has said we are doing better, with United States support, on joint seizure operations.
CAMBIO: But they don’t all understand the new policies yet; the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere matters at the State Department, Brian Nichols, criticized the policy at a United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, and he actually said, “President Petro said that he wanted to have a purely routine eradication policy.” And he said, “We think it’s going to be very hard to be successful without pressure to diminish illegal planting, and particularly if the voluntary eradication program doesn’t get under way.” And there is no pressure, Ambassador. Besides, the program hasn’t started yet . . .
L.G.M.: They are working to outline a policy that has no precedent, because they are discussing it with the communities. That was one of the specific instructions from President Petro. The goal is to have it ready this month. And with that policy they are going to removesome programs and priorities in the municipalities where 70% to 75% of the coca is being grown.
CAMBIO: And are there any clues to what the policy is going to be like?
L.G.M.: It’s going to be in the context of what we have been suggesting, of emphasizing manual eradication in agreements with the communities. Crops that are considered industrial, the really big coca fields, they will be cleared by forced eradication. And there’s also going to be a special mechanism for crops that are in environmentally sensitive areas or in community areas. That means that eradication is being continued, but with a new purpose, where we are not criminalizing the communities that have been forced to dedicate themselves to growing coca because they had no other opportunity. That is the proposal that’s going to be our new policy. But, in addition, there has to be new emphasis on substitution. And that’s where Felipe Tascón, as Director of the PNIS program, has put priority on the areas where there has been community consultation to be able to implement some processes of industrialization in some areas where there are already productive routes that would be able to sustain income for those families. And in addition, it has to do with a proposal of payment for environmental services and a guaranteed substitution of income for those communities. That would have to do with eradication. And Minister Osuna has suggested, and has been dialoging, on a goal that could reduce coca plantings sustainably by 50% during the term of this administration, because re-planting, given that we are using a different method, would be very low, barely between 1% and 6%, or 70% less than now.
The next stage is how to put in place the cooperation in intelligence, with military and police working in interdiction, including interdiction on government property, especially with the emphasis President Petro has placed on interdiction on the rivers. The Colombian Navy is going to play an important role there. The next stage is the attack on the criminal networks. And that attack involves being able to respond to the challenges of money laundering and illegal enrichment, and putting intelligence to use in these strikes at the criminal networks. And there have been some on the owners of the businesses already, as Minister Velásquez has announced. Look at this, we have found that, in cooperation with the United States, the greatest emphasis had not really been on money laundering. And that is really the column that we have to attack, because that’s where we can dismantle those criminal networks, because the owners of the businesses are not in the communities; they are in the big cities, in the country and outside of the country.
And there is another component to this new emphasis in drug policy that has to do with the application of legal cooperation, which won’t be touched, as Minister Osuna has said, and the President has reiterated, and continuing to cooperate with the United States, with Colombia’s Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. State Department, and the security agencies in the areas of legal cooperation to attack these networks. And finally, they have been suggesting ways to respond to the new challenges. Foreign Minister Leyva will participate in a global summit called together by the United States, to focus on the challenges of the new narcotics, and the threat of fentanyl. There the country will have to consider ways to create an infrastructure for the prevention of drug consumption. We have suggested to the United States that it’s important that its policy of diminishing demand for cocaine and other narcotics be more effective, because in the end, as President Petro has stated, demand is what’s moving this market.
CAMBIO: Ambassador, how are relations with the U.S. Congress going? The President of the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee, the Republican, Mario Díaz-Balart, was speaking about what they call the uncertainty awakened by the Petro administration, and suggested the possibility of deferring economic support for Colombia. The Democrats opposed that. However, that’s a signal that things aren’t so easy in the Congress and that there’s a break with the traditional bipartisanship in the management of relations with Colombia. How do you see that?
L.G.M.: There are disagreements about foreign policy in every administration. And those disagreements happen in Colombia just like here. And what’s clear is that that is understood here, and it’s understood in Congress, that Colombian democracy is a solid democracy. More people have participated in the election process since the signing and implementation of the Peace Agreement with the FARC. And that has strengthened our democracy. President Petro, along with Vice President Francia Márquez, received the highest number of votes in history. And it was a historic landmark, the first leftist President, and the first female, black, Afro-Colombian Vice President, who did this on her own. And that’s a good indicator of democracy. But we can see President Petro’s pragmatism here in being able to dialog with the opposition, negotiate with groups that are outside the law, and incorporate differing perspectives. That is respected here. In the same way, it’s a fact that in Colombia the system of the weights and counterweights of democracy is working very well. And that shows the maturity of our democracy. However, in the democracy of the United States, there are different opinions; there is one sector in the Congress, particularly in the Republican Party, that reads Colombia differently, and that reading does not reflect the position of the majority of the Congress, or of the parties. The support for Colombia continues to be bipartisan support. Many members of Congress have stated in the House of Representatives, in the Senate, and in both parties, that this is not a time to defer funds for a strategic ally as important as Colombia.
So, we respect the position of Rep. Díaz-Balart, but this is a process that has just begun. The Representative made a proposal to defer the funds. There would obviously have to be a procedural path in the House for that, in the whole Congress. Here we are starting a process that, practically, will take until the end of the year, and we are very optimistic that it’s going to go well for Colombia and for the relationship, because we understand its importance for the country, and Colombia has taken measures that are very much in agreement with the United States. We have an open dialog, very constructive, with the Congress, and we also believe that maintaining that dialog is essential as a mark of respect; obviously it has to be bipartisan. And I’m convinced that our allies in the Congress agree with us, and there will be a discussion in Congress and they will be analyzing, and Colombia will continue to receive support. I’m very optimistic because we have been building confidence and there is a lot of friendliness. We’re doing the work; Colombia now has a new security policy that is a novelty in the hemisphere. It has a dimension of human security, multidimensional and territorial. General Laura Richardson, Commander of the United States Southern Command, testified in Congress that in terms of security and defense, Colombia is continuing the line of cooperation with the United States, and that is being maintained. And different officials have testified similarly. There are some other discussions that we’re having, that have to do with drug control policies, but those discussions will be completed soon, and we will have a strategy, a policy, and some programs talked-over and agreed-on with our principal partner, which is the United States.
CAMBIO: You don’t see any possibility of decertifying Colombia?
L.G.M.: No. I think Colombia has been implementing a drug control policy that reflects this new moment. I repeat, there have been reports to Congress from the Comptroller General of the United States, from think tanks, that agree that it’s time to innovate with drug control policy. And that Is what Colombia is doing. Colombia really is proposing new ways and I think there is a willingness and receptivity here to support Colombia in these new emphases that we consider to be effective. And here, I insist, the fact that we could diminish the amount of re-planting of coca shows that this could be a way to achieving an effective drug policy.
So in the long run, there has to be a thorough discussion of many of the issues having to do with a different approach to the stigmatization of the consumers and of the communities that have been producing the coca, not just in the case of cocaine, but of other types of narcotics also. It’s a discussion with an international context, and one that Colombia must lead. President Petro has been working on this with some of the other governments in the region for a long time, especially México, to be able to call together a wide-ranging conference on the subject of drug control.
CAMBIO: Given that fentanyl has turned into a major problem in the United States, won’t that result in lowering the pressure on us a little bit?
L.G.M.: No. You have seen how they are still making specific pronouncements about cocaine trafficking. And that shows that it continues to be a priority. What we have to do is to incorporate ourselves as a country with circuits of prevention. The threat that we have is a possible increase in production of fentanyl, but that will be part of an integrated, holistic, response, fighting the illegal markets of narcotics, especially the new kinds and the synthetics.
CAMBIO: Ambassador, changing the subject, how does the United States see “total peace”?
L.G.M.: Obviously, the United States supports peace efforts in Colombia, and it has been coherent and consistent in that support, which is bipartisan, and it consolidated that with its support of negotiations in the final stages, signing, and implementation of the Final Agreement with the now-defunct FARC. You will recall that in Secretary Blinken’s visit to Bogotá, in his meeting with President Petro, and with Vice President Francia Márquez, accompanied by Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva, it was established that the United States would provide special accompaniment, like a godmother or a godfather, to the Ethnic chapter of the Peace Agreement with the FARC. There is where they ratified their support of efforts for peace. Concerning other efforts, for example, negotiations with the ELN, the United States has expressed its interest in monitoring and following up as the negotiations progress. In the diplomatic visit I had with President Biden, he expressed a lot of interest in that process.
That was also ratified in the discussion between the two Presidents here in Washington. We have been discussing this process continually with the United States government. Our government has complete confidence in the negotiations being led by the principal negotiator, Otty Patiño. And those are evolving. There is one very specific result: the ceasefire that will commence its implementation and has its challenges as in any peace process. And I believe there is a lot of interest in that. It’s being observed, and we’re staying informed and are talking about the issues. And we hope that in the future we will have the accompaniment of the United States government in this process. I think there’s a good signal there.
CAMBIO: At first they said no. But they might send someone very soon . . .
L.G.M.: We are hoping that as these negotiations develop, when the process is further along, we can go back to discussing the issues and be able to count on the accompaniment of the United States in a system similar to the one we had in the negotiations with the FARC. But that was in the final stages of the negotiations. And it’s possible that this could also happen in the negotiations with the ELN.
CAMBIO: We can hope! And how does the United States view the possibility of the Clan del Golfo and other groups submitting to Colombia’s legal system, Ambassador?
L.G.M.: They’re watching it. But Minister Osuna has been very clear in the discussions going on in the Congress, because that’s what we do the most in our diplomatic mission, we visit members of Congress and we talk with government officials. He has said that we are discussing a statute for their submission, their subjection. The issues that the United States has always put on the table have to do with legal cooperation and extradition. And we don’t touch that issue, obviously. It continues to be discussed in terms of Colombia’s sovereignty in applying extradition laws, and of the effects of the peace process negotiations. Obviously, the processes would be applied in a manner similar to those in the negotiations with the FARC.
CAMBIO: But you think the United States might accept that extradition would be suspended in case one of them would submit to Colombia’s legal system?
R.G.M.: With submissions, there are surrender negotiations. There are clear conditions in the bill that Minister Osuna proposed to the Congress, and information about routes has to be supplied, that is a subject for negotiation by the actives, etc., that are leading the Colombian government, and it’s a lot like systems that have been applied in the United States. That country also has experience with terms of submission, and that experience is perfectly applicable.
CAMBIO: How is the issue of migration going?
L.G.M.: That issue is making progress. And we are also looking at migration matters with the perspective of building peace, because it’s a dimension that can also feed the conflict. As a government, and as both President Petro, Vice President Márquez, and Minister Leyva have stated, we are committed to really fortifying the systems for building peace in the country. And here we obviously need the cooperation of the United States.
That collaboration has to be based on trust, and that is what we have been building. And migration is a central linchpin for peace. That’s where everything related to migration must begin. And what are we doing about migration? First of all, Colombia has a lot of moral authority on this matter, because it has been very consistent in making space for migrants, mostly from Venezuela. Colombia, in an action that brought us distinction in the international context, granted temporary protection status to nearly 2.5 to 3 million Venezuelan migrants in Colombia. And there are very interesting models: in Bogotá, for example, the local leadership in the integrated centers supported by the cooperation of the United States; or in Barranquilla; or in Bucaramanga; or in Cúcuta; these are very important examples, and that is what leads President Petro to support this policy. We have to maintain it; we have to expand it and more of these opportunities. Look, this is a point that I have made here in Washington, and it’s that the great majority of these migrants, to take the case of Venezuela, are not coming to the United States. That responsibility has been taken on by countries in the region that have far fewer resources. Because, of the 7 million Venezuelans that are capable of mobility, the great majority are in our region; they aren’t in the United States. And for Colombia, that has been at the very high cost of nearly two points of GDP. And it’s an effort that our country has made. I made that point recently here in Washington: we value the cooperation and support of the United States in meeting the challenges of migration. But we are clear in that it takes more funding. Because more could be done. And what are we saying right now about migration? In the framework of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration, Colombia has taken on an important leadership role, and that leadership role has to do with the fact that migration has to be seen as an opportunity, and looking at it that way, we have to guarantee a humanitarian response, fighting the human trafficking networks, especially the ones that deceive so many families and subject them to the cruelty of passing through the Darién Gap and all of that trail of death to the United States.
That’s the first thing, responding to this situation in a humanitarian way and, besides that, assuring legal ways for people to move. First there has to be a policy of opening up migration processes. There has to be a certain homogenization, a certain standardization of responses, guaranteeing integration. And the other thing is that the United States, as they themselves have said, as the Secretary of National Security said, they have not resolved their own failures in the system of migration; they are beginning to resolve them. President Biden has made a strong effort to guarantee legal paths; but we need for them to assure that migration, human mobility, is safe and orderly, because it’s chaotic right now, that it’s regulated and inclusive, and is approached from a strategic perspective. I will give an example, and we have pointed this out to the United States, first you have to regularize the procedures for people who want to enter the country, for the Venezuelan, Haitian, or Cuban people in the safe migration centers, the offices that are being established in Colombia and other countries in the region.
CAMBIO: Those are the so-called migration centers?
L.G.M.: Yes, those are the centers that have changed their names. They are centers or offices for safe mobility. That’s what they’re called now. Through the Foreign Ministry and Colombia Migration, the Colombian government has led the process of implementation, a pilot project, in an exploratory phase of opening these centers. And we will all learn from this. And the lessons gathered from these six months are going to lead to permanent implementation systems. In addition, we are proposing an agenda for the creation of legal pathways for humane mobility and migratory systems for the Colombian people. In what way? To give you an example, it’s been agreed that the United States will have a program of family reunification for Colombians who are in the United States and who have relatives in this country. We are working on, and are in a process of negotiation on this program, led by the Foreign Ministry. I will give you some data. In the most recent profile of the Colombian population in the United States that was made at our request by the Institute for Migration Policy in the United States, we see that the Colombian diaspora is numbered at nearly 2 million people. We say that it could be 2 ½ million. Of that population, there are 86,000, almost 100,000, that are married to a person with regular status in the United States, and could be eligible for a family reunification program. It’s been calculated that nearly 400,000 Colombians are in an irregular situation, which is sometimes referred to as illegal or undocumented. If we made our program more flexible, we could find a legal pathway through a family reunification program, and we could improve the condition of the Colombian diaspora who are now in an irregular situation here. To that we could add the Colombian students who have entered the DACA program. There right now, we have nearly 2,000, and 9,000 might be eligible. A program of reunification could be made possible. So we now have a fairly focused program to see how we can provide an exit for Colombian people that are in an irregular situation. And we are proposing, both in the short and in the long run, that the government of the United States approve the DD, or deferred deportation, where a population can be provided the possibility of being regularized within the United States, receiving a work permit, and later return to their country in a dignified manner, doing circular migration, or they could become part of the society of the United States.
We are also proposing to the government of the United States an action that we think would increase labor mobility. There are great opportunities in that to guarantee regularization of the Colombian population in the United States. And this could also broaden all the educational pathways for education mobility. That wasn’t on the agenda before, it wasn’t a priority. But President Petro has been very clear. These missions have to be in the service of guaranteeing a decent life and the exercise of the people’s rights, independent of their legal status. And we have placed that on the agenda. And there has been a lot of receptivity by the government of the United States.
CAMBIO: Ambassador, I understand that the United States also has a development agenda focused on the regions. What is that?
L.G.M.: The United States has an interesting priority in approaching the regions. In coincides with the exercise of integrating remote parts of Colombia that President Petro did recently in La Guajira. The United States has suggested, and this is in agreement with the Colombian government, that there are some regions where the government has really failed to provide presence and legitimacy. So we need some solutions there. Therefore, the United States has focused on certain regions. One of those is La Guajira. Others have to do with the Pacific, Chocó. And there are some areas where they have determined that there are numerous municipalities covered by the Pdet program, but where intense conflict exists. And the United States also has a regional focus, and there are several programs that have been implemented with that focus. And there we are also suggesting certain emphases, especially regarding the people, young people, gender equity, and the inclusion of ethnic groups. There is a very interesting USAID program, the ethnic round-up program, which has had an important impact. So there is a regional emphasis that is serving the country, because there are regions that need attention. And that is very much in line with what President Petro has been proposing, with what he discussed with President Biden, and with what is set forth in the Development Plan.
CAMBIO: Ambassador, what about Venezuela? You were one of the ones that promoted the meeting in Bogotá, the agreements with the opposition. President Petro was very interested in that. But it looks now as if the subject is not ripe. Besides that, Maduro disqualified the leader of the opposition, María Corina Machado. And that’s a hard knock to the democratic process. How is that going?
L.G.M.: President Petro has always expressed his interest in a dialog for the solution of the democratic and other challenges that Venezuela has. Also, the government normalized the relationship with Venezuela. And there is work in a bilateral manner. So I participated, as instructed by the President and Foreign Minister Leyva, in setting up a channel of communication with the opposition in Venezuela, and I accompanied them in some meetings with the Venezuelan government. That role led to the conference that took place last April 25. And the Venezuela International Conference was very successful because 20 countries came, with very high-level representation. The President and Foreign Minister Leyva established a framework, and there was agreement, first that it was necessary to progress to deeper dialog, seeking a solution to the democratic challenges, especially to carry out elections that would be free, fair, competitive, transparent, and that there be guarantees for everyone, for the participants that are close to the government as well as the opposition. And second, there was also agreement that, to be able to make progress, it would be very important to take steps, such as lifting some of the sanctions against Venezuela. That was one of the points where there was agreement at that Conference. The other was that there also be progress toward a humanitarian response by the creation and putting into operation of a fiduciary fund that had been negotiated by the government of Venezuela and the opposition. That is connected to some steps toward the accomplishment of human rights standards. And President Petro has been insistent that Venezuela must return to the Inter-American System of Human Rights and guarantee the application of the Inter-American Convention. And in that sense, obviously, it becomes fundamental that there be progress toward transparent elections, but also in all of the areas in which the opposition and the government of Venezuela are interested. And Colombia, and other countries, as President Petro has said, will be facilitators so that there can be real progress in reaching a comprehensive solution to Venezuela’s challenges. The President has been very clear. There have been meetings with the opposition. And they are talking about going forward to reactivate or have some follow-up activities from the international conference that took place in Bogotá. And there is a lot of coordination with the countries that took part. And the President was very clear: You heard the way he condemned the disqualification of María Corina Machado. He has been very consistent in that no administrative authority ought to take away the right of an individual to have access to their political rights. That means that you cannot take away the political rights of any citizen in that way, using an administrative authority. He has been clear and that expresses the position of the government of Colombia. Besides that, the President has suggested that there ought to be a regional conversation about this, especially by the countries that defend democratic rights. They could accompany, turning into the friends of democratic solutions for Venezuela. And obviously, Foreign Minister Leyva has been leading these kinds of conversations. I think that Colombia will continue to play a role in supporting the Venezuelan people in finding comprehensive solutions. As a country, we are extremely interested, because the impact is enormous, especially in Colombia.
CAMBIO: Hopefully, something can be done. Ambassador, let’s talk about Ukraine. If the war goes on indefinitely, what will Colombia’s position be? Can it continue its timid position of refusing a firm condemnation of Russia’s invasion?
L.G.M.: I don’t agree with that. Colombia’s position has always been clear. And it’s been to condemn every invasion, including this one. If you review all the international forums where resolutions or pronouncements on this war have been presented, Colombia has condemned the invasion, and has also pointed out that it is opposed to any invasion, and that what Colombia will pursue is a policy of peace, and that the peace has to arrive by a negotiated conclusion. This country has been very coherent on that, not just in its internal policies, but also in foreign policy, and the President has said that. If you review the joint declaration by President Petro and President Biden at their visit in April, it makes Colombia’s position on the war very clear. And the Foreign Ministry has also been emphatic in its posture on the challenge that international powers have, to reach an end to this war and this invasion in that part of the world.
CAMBIO: Speaking of you, yourself, Ambassador, what has been the hardest part of your work in Washington?
L.G.M.: That’s a good question. Obviously, doing this work requires the translation of the local and domestic contexts in Washington to Colombia, and our context in Colombia and to the decision-makers in Colombia. And obviously that requires translating the Colombian context to here.
The President has been very clear in his position regarding the United States, and he values the relationship very highly. But the process of translation has its challenges on both sides. That has been the hardest thing of all. But also the long days and the hard work, because the responsibility is huge. There’s so much in play, being able to maintain and protect this relationship that is of benefit to both countries. And the relationship has to be expanded, it has to go deeper, and it has to be maintained in a bipartisan manner. And that is what we have done. And you also know that sometimes a person, in view of the elections, would like to talk more. But here it’s practical not to talk much about the work of diplomacy, and so be more effective. That’s another challenge.
CAMBIO: And what has been the best part of your work?
L.G.M.: The best part has been being able to attain understanding and friendliness between the two governments and between leaders in Congress. And I felt great satisfaction when we talked with the whole team, with Foreign Minister Leyva, with the team from the President’s Office and the White House, with Juan and with Brian, and with everybody before the meeting between President Petro and President Biden. We’re going to go ahead and talk about the topics in their statements because we want the two Presidents to have time to talk and get to know each other. And you always have a little bit of fear that the empathy won’t be there, and everything depends on that. And I and all of my team felt great satisfaction when we saw how much empathy there was between President Petro and President Biden.
CAMBIO: They even celebrated a birthday, didn’t they?
L.G.M.: Yes, they did. And they even said some things that were not politically correct. So I said, in confidence, “Listen, we are overshooting our goal.”
CAMBIO: So, are you happy in Washington, Ambassador?
L.G.M.: Yes, I’m happy with the confidence the President has placed in the work we’re doing here. And the Vice President. And Foreign Minister Leyva. And the administration team. And that makes you feel a greater responsibility to do a good job.
CAMBIO: But the gossips are saying that you are the new Foreign Minister. . . .
L.G.M.: No, those are rumors that are trying to create suspicion between the Foreign Minister and his Ambassador. I am very disciplined. We have a very good relationship. And with the Foreign Minister, whom I admire a great deal, we are in constant communication. And we have really made a good team, with him and with the President’s people. And the President is very satisfied with the team, with what we have accomplished in different areas.
CAMBIO: Do you have anything to add, Ambassador?
L.G.M.: No, simply thank you very much for the opportunity to share some reflections and ideas here.
CAMBIO: Thank you to you. You are in your own house here, Ambassador.