Colombia has always been a staunch ally of the United States, whether the White House guest is a Republican or a Democrat.
This ideological and / or pragmatic accommodation with the power of the North – Colombia’s main trading partner, largest investor and country of residence of 2,643,178 Colombians – depends, however, on the preferences of decision-makers, as well as on the governing policies of the elite.
In recent years, however, the relationship between Donald Trump and Iván Duque has grown stronger and has ended up breaking this bipartisan tradition.
Colombian government officials backed Trump’s re-election and Mauricio Claver-Carone’s candidacy for the presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), which created unease among Democratic and Latin American leaders.
Despite the fact that the 1991 Constitution aimed to strengthen Colombia’s integration with Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States continued to be the primary point of reference for the design of Colombia’s external guidelines.
In this sense, there is a triangulation of international relations with Venezuela, China and Cuba on issues such as migration, drugs and multilateralism.
Despite this “Respice Polum” (looking north), relations with China continue to strengthen.
It is Colombia’s second largest socio-commercial partner, and investment in infrastructure has increased, as evidenced by the concession of the Bogotá metro to China Harbor Engineering Company Limited (Chec) and Xi’An Rail Transportation Group Company Limited. .
Since the pandemic, ties with Korea and Germany have also been strengthened through cooperation.
The changes that have taken place in recent months represent a reshaping of relations between Colombia and the United States.
The new US President, Joe Biden, has demonstrated that his administration takes a different approach to issues such as democracy and, therefore, the implementation of the peace agreement and the protection of human rights, the struggle against drug trafficking and crime. Transnational, the response to the crisis in Venezuela, the expansion of trade, climate change and human rights.
However, the disinterest in Latin America seems to remain intact, as well as the continuity in the effort to regain leadership over China.
Three possible scenarios in relations with the United States
Given these considerations, three possible scenarios are proposed for the new relationship between Colombia and the United States under the Biden administration: continuity, change and intermediary.
In the first scenario, of continuity and nuance, the United States would focus its efforts on internal economic recovery and, in particular, on the pandemic, while seeking support to legitimize its leadership.
In his relations with Colombia, he would send messages to strengthen democracy and say that for the White House, the military option to remove Nicolás Maduro is not valid.
It would focus on public health and prevention issues and warn about the risks of using glyphosate to combat illicit crops.
Multilaterally, and although he returned to the WHO (World Health Organization) and the Paris Agreement, he would seek allies to soften the power and presence of China, especially in America. Latin.
It would be a more rhetorical scenario than that of actions in relation to Colombia, which would put at ease the main political elites, represented mainly by the Democratic Center – a party led by former president Álvaro Uribe -, as well as the elites. economic and the Armed Forces.
In this context, Colombia would strengthen its trade, political and military relations with the United States, moderate its language of confrontation with the Venezuelan government and make rhetorical statements about immigrants from that country, such as the Statute on Temporary Migration formulated there. a month ago.
In the second scenario, of pressures and changes, the United States would demand a greater commitment to democracy, greater judicial independence, respect for the decisions of higher courts and, in environmental matters, actions that go beyond the law. rhetoric of the pact of Leticia, The regional agreement to protect the Amazon River basin is known.
As for Venezuela, the Biden government is reportedly openly proposing a broader vision that contemplates dialogue and presses multilateral organizations to force Maduro to negotiate a transition, through free elections.
Given this situation, the Duke administration would be forced to reorient the bilateral agenda with the United States.
He must strengthen democracy, the protection of human rights and in particular of social leaders, as well as an explicit commitment to implement the peace agreement, of which President Biden himself was a part.
As for his relationship with Venezuela, he should moderate his language in relation to the Maduro government and reopen some consulates. Bogotá has not had an ambassador in Caracas since 2018 and that in 2019 diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed, creating an institutional vacuum.
In return, the White House would continue to economically support the Duke administration to cope with the presence of nearly 2 million Venezuelan immigrants on Colombian territory.
On the issue of illicit drugs, the Defense Ministry should focus more on prevention and public health and implement labor policies, as the Covid pandemic has reduced the chances of many farmers to cultivate.
The third scenario presents an intermediate situation, which would bring together elements of the previous two, and is most likely to occur.
It would all depend on how the internal and external factors mentioned evolve, but, due to Biden’s conciliatory approach, he wouldn’t bet on drastic changes.
The room for maneuver of the United States and Colombia would vary depending on the problem. For the former, structural and institutional elements weigh more, while for Colombia, political will, as well as external pressures and national elites, have more influence.
For example, for the United States, Colombia’s relations with Cuba would not be a priority, but on the other hand, there would be support for negotiations with the guerrillas of the ELN (National Liberation Army). .
The most reasonable, in this more pragmatic scenario, would be for the Duke government to depart from the ideology of its foreign policy, with a full agenda with the United States and with specific actions for countries with a growing presence in Colombia.
Translation by Maria Isabel Santos Lima