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Colombia: The thaw between Washington and Caracas tarnishes the photo of Duque with Biden | International

Iván Duque and Joe Biden greet each other during the climate summit in Glasgow, COP26, last November.
Iván Duque and Joe Biden greet each other during the climate summit in Glasgow, COP26, last November.Pool / Latin America News Agency (Pool / Latin America News Agency)

Iván Duque has been determined to iron out rough edges with the White House. The president of Colombia, a semester after handing over power, finally has an audience with Joe Biden in the United States this Thursday, a gesture that should finish closing once and for all the wounds between two close allies in the twilight of his management. But the long-awaited photo between the two leaders has lost its luster, as it occurs precisely when Washington has just begun an unexpected rapprochement with the Chavista government of Venezuela that leaves Bogotá off balance.

The incipient thaw between Washington and Caracas occurs amid the din of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the US veto on Russian oil production as a backdrop, and has also unsettled the Venezuelan opposition itself. The long-awaited meeting between Biden and Duque, an enthusiastic supporter of NATO, takes place “at a challenging moment for humanity,” according to the Casa de Nariño. In a statement, in which he does not mention relations with Venezuela, he says that at the meeting the leaders will discuss issues such as the defense of democracy, the fight against drug trafficking, the migration crisis, climate change, the energy transition and the reactivation economic. Duque does not recognize the government of Nicolás Maduro, whom he considers a dictator and accuses of giving shelter in his territory to the ELN guerrillas and the FARC dissidents that separated from the peace process.

Several Colombian officials have aired their objections. “If you have just banned the oil of the so-called Russian dictator, it is difficult to explain why you are going to buy oil from the Venezuelan dictator,” he told the Financial Times the Minister of Mines and Energy, Diego Mesa, in the framework of an annual conference on energy in Houston, in which Duque also participated this week. Even the vice president and chancellor, Marta Lucía Ramírez, who is part of the Colombian delegation, has hinted that she will ask the United States for explanations. Former Vice President Francisco Santos, who was ambassador to the United States, went a step further by considering the rapprochement a “slap in the face” to Duque.

Opponents of the Colombian president did not take long to consider that the new circumstances show the failure of his foreign policy. “The Government sacrificed relations with Venezuela for ideology and leadership. Today, the United States negotiates with our neighbors and leaves us a lesson: foreign relations are governed by the interests of the States, not by the bets of the politicians of the day,” said former peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle, who aspires to the Senate. “The next government must return to a pragmatic foreign policy that prioritizes Colombia over ideologies.” The reopening of the border flow and the reestablishment of some type of relations with Venezuela, completely broken since 2019, is a clamor in the populations along a porous border line of more than 2,200 kilometers, and the majority of the presidential candidates who seeking to relieve Duque have been in favor of that change.

“The rapprochement leaves the Duque government in a bad light, essentially because if it has been immovable in anything, it has been in its positions against Maduro and Venezuela,” says Arlene Tickner, professor of international relations at the Universidad del Rosario, in Bogotá. She points out that Duque’s obsession with achieving a meeting in the White House “corresponds more to a personal need than a national one”, at a time when he is preparing to leave power. Some of the reactions of Colombian officials, she concludes, “denote a feeling of infidelity and betrayal that is very telling of the fantasy that has been built here around the special character that Colombia has for the United States.”

Biden has an extensive history with Colombia. The Democratic president usually refers to the Andean country as “the cornerstone” of Washington’s foreign policy in Latin America; As a congressman for Delaware, he was one of the great promoters of the anti-narcotics and counter-insurgency alliance articulated around Plan Colombia at the beginning of this century; and as Barack Obama’s vice president, he supported the peace agreement with the former FARC guerrilla during the government of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018), which Duque has hesitated to decisively implement.

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None of this prevented tensions with the Duque government, which date back to the very campaign that brought the Democrat to power, at the end of 2020. In the US elections, the undisguised support for the re-election of Republican Donald Trump from the Democratic Center, the government party founded by former President Álvaro Uribe, especially in the crucial state of Florida, irritated many Democratic leaders. The cost of that interference has hung over Colombian diplomacy ever since, cracking the traditional bipartisan support it used to garner in Washington.

Although the Colombian president was one of the first to recognize Biden’s victory, he had previously been a close associate of Trump, with an obvious tune with respect to the crisis in neighboring Venezuela and the “diplomatic siege” against the Maduro regime. In more recent times, Duque has been emphatic that Colombia will not recognize the “dictatorship” as long as he is president, and instead maintains its unqualified support for Juan Guaidó, prompting heated debates about the efficacy and pragmatism of the dictatorship. Colombian diplomacy.

“Biden may be looking forward, but Duque is stuck in his decision to have recognized Guaidó and has been unable to move forward. It is a government that is trying to guarantee itself influence after it is over, but it is going to cost a lot of work,” says analyst Sergio Guzmán, director of the Colombia Risk Analysis consultancy. “Duque has made supporting Guaidó a point of honor, I don’t see that changing.”

In the final stretch of his term, the Colombian has given priority to rebuilding relations with the United States, to the point of aligning his agenda with the Biden White House by focusing on migration issues –Colombia is the main destination of the diaspora Venezuela – and climate change, instead of security and the fight against drug trafficking. The two leaders have had a telephone conversation and coincided in November at one of the meetings of the climate summit in Glasgow. But only so far have they finalized a meeting overshadowed by the pulse of superpowers between Washington and Moscow.

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