After formal introductions, handshakes and mandatory photographs at the Casa de Nariño in Bogotá, it was the thread between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Colombian President Gustavo Petro. As the first leg of a four-day trip to meet three newly elected leftist presidents in South America, including Pedro Castillo (Peru) and Gabriel Boric (Chile), Blinken’s two-hour meeting with his Colombian host was followed by a joint press briefing in which Petro predicted that the top US diplomat “will eventually be elected President of the United States”.
The cordial exchange of words during which the Colombian and American delegations discussed the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC, drug trafficking, illegal migration and key elements of the binational agenda was punctuated by Petro’s insistence to stop demonizing coca growers as the root cause of drugs. harvest, and to find a “more complete view of drug consumption and production in the hemisphere”.
President Petro’s vision of a “drug trafficking proletariat” – represented by subsistence farmers – who reside in remote and excluded areas and “forced to cultivate illegal crops” in the “service of drug traffickers” has been cited as the reason why violence has plagued rural Colombia for decades. “This is where we produce the largest number of victims of violence in the country and forcibly displaced people,” he said.
“The real bosses of the drug trade, whose role is to generate money, are not dressed in camouflage, in uniforms, nor do they carry guns,” said the former guerrilla commander of M-19. “It is very likely that they were in these same rooms and that they were part of the political elites in Colombia. And I would say, among the political powers outside of Colombia.
Petro’s claims that the US-led war on drugs is a ‘complete failure’, and reiterated in his first UN address to the General Assembly last month in New York, have been received by Blinken as part of the narrative to “advance the partnership with Colombia.” But on Monday, however, the United States stressed that cooperation with Colombia has so far depended on congressional support, but that cannot be taken for granted.
“For decades, the partnership between the United States and Colombia has benefited people in both our countries and people across the hemisphere. Its strength has not waned from one administration to another in our two countries. In the US Congress, cooperation with Colombia is a priority that enjoys strong and bipartisan support,” he stressed. “This is in large part because the partnership between our nations is rooted in fundamentally shared values: democracy, respect for human rights, the preservation of our planet for future generations and the belief that all – all our peoples – should be able to reach their full potential,” Blinken said.
In a carefully crafted speech that contrasted in diplomatic style with Petro’s free speech, the secretary gave his backing to the leftist politician’s commitment to full implementation of the peace accord and “single responsibility guarantee the rights and equity of the country’s Afro-Colombian population. and indigenous groups who have suffered and continue to suffer disproportionate damage from the conflict. Blinken made it clear that the United States and Colombia share a “belief that lasting peace must be inclusive peace.”
As U.S. drug policy, narcotics interdiction efforts, and hemispheric security were discussed behind closed doors, Petro and Blinken mentioned extradition as one of the key elements in the prosecution of counter-narcotics cooperation and intelligence sharing. The Colombian president had said several times during his campaign – that if elected – he would end the extradition treaty with the United States. Blinken acknowledged that his government needed to tackle the root causes of insecurity: corruption, impunity and inequity. “We have understood for some time – in Colombia and beyond – that we cannot effectively combat violence by focusing only on strengthening law enforcement tools and security cooperation.”
From finding common ground on climate change goals to strengthening investigations and prosecutions of gender-based violence, human rights abuses, the killing of human rights defenders, rights, journalists, environmental and social leaders, Petro and Blinken have paved the way for a new working relationship, based on “historically strong ties” and “shared priorities”.
But Blinken responded to Petro’s request for the United States to remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. “With regard to Cuba, and with regard to the designation of the state sponsor of terrorism, we have clear laws, clear criteria, clear requirements, and we will continue to review them if necessary to see if Cuba continues to deserve this designation,” Blinken said.
The Secretary of State also affirmed “the right of all nations to respect for their sovereignty and territorial integrity” and directly condemned President Putin’s “unjust war against Ukraine” just steps away from a President who didn’t. Even in Petro’s first address to the General Assembly, he refused to mention Putin as an aggressor, let alone a war criminal. “So on the issues that matter most to our people and that are fundamental to demonstrating that our democracies can deliver real results, Colombia and the United States have a long history of working together,” Blinken said. “We know that despite all the progress that has been made, our work is unfinished and the challenges ahead are real.”
Among the highlights of Blinken’s visit to Bogotá was the Colombian president’s gift to the visiting dignitary of a woolen ruana woven in Cogua, Boyacá, and a traditional costume worn by farmers – campesinos – to ward off the cold. The iconic accessory seemed to send a clear message ahead of the joint press conference, and a palpable chill on drug policy.