Joseph Biden is by far the president of the United States who knows Colombia best when he takes office. His travels and experiences link him with one of Washington's main allies in Latin America. However, his arrival at the White House comes with anxiety for the government of Iván Duque, which took the risk of being thrown back after having cultivated the status of privileged partner of Donald Trump.
The brand new Democratic president likes to refer to the Andean country as "the cornerstone" of Washington's foreign policy in Latin America. He was one of the great promoters of Plan Colombia that forged the anti-narcotics and counterinsurgency alliance between Bogotá and Washington at the beginning of this century, when he was a congressman from Delaware, and as vice president of Barack Obama, he decisively supported the talks in Havana, which led to the Peace agreement between the Government of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) and the defunct FARC guerrilla. "With a congratulatory hug, we wish him all the best," wrote the also winner of the Nobel Peace Prize on Twitter during Wednesday's inauguration on Twitter for that difficult pact: "the world needs it." Santos is one of the South American personalities who has developed a close relationship with Biden throughout his long public careers.
His successor, Iván Duque, a critic of the accords, was one of the first leaders in the region to acknowledge Biden's victory in the November elections, and congratulate him, in what seemed an effort to heal the wounds left by the undisguised support from the Democratic Center, the ruling party founded by former President Álvaro Uribe, for Trump's reelection campaign in the crucial state of Florida – where he ultimately beat Biden in a Pyrrhic victory. However, the new president's team gave priority during the transition to communicate with other Latin American presidents rather than with the Colombian, as had been tradition. Duque was a close ally of the Republican, with a notorious harmony with respect to the crisis in neighboring Venezuela and the "diplomatic siege" against the regime of Nicolás Maduro – and despite some friction due to the high levels of illicit crops in the Andean country -.
The Colombian president, who has a year and a half left in power, clings to the "historic" ties between the two countries. In an official statement of a minute and a half to express his best wishes to Biden after his inauguration, he highlighted the defense of democracy, the fight against transnational crime, drug trafficking and terrorism as some of the "common objectives" of a relationship. which he made sure to frame as "binational, bipartisan, and bicameral." The Colombian Executive has been precisely reproached for the fact that Uribism – as the political current created around the former president is known – broke a tradition of neutrality in the North American campaign that also used to woo the support of both parties in Congress, where the budget issues that most concern the Andean country.
Bogotá had already shown itself fully aligned with the Trump White House in the process to elect Mauricio Claver-Carone, Trump's candidate, as president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Duque early and decisively supported a nomination that broke an unwritten rule for the position to fall to a Latin American, and predictably divided the region – among Biden's first calls as president-elect were the leaders of Argentina, Chile and Costa Rica, countries who tried to avoid the choice of Claver-Carone. But it was the participation of politicians from the Democratic Center in the campaign in Florida, peppered with misinformation and allusions to "Castro-Chavismo," the term coined by Uribe to attack the peace process, that caused the most discomfort among Democratic party operators.
"If I have the honor of being elected president, rebuilding our alliance with Colombia will be one of my foreign policy priorities," Biden wrote in the final stretch of the campaign, in a letter addressed to Colombians, and to the Colombian community. American, who published in The Sun Sentinel, a South Florida newspaper, as well as in Time from Bogota. Colombian-American Juan González, who had already worked in the White House during Obama's term, will now be the director for the Western Hemisphere of the new Administration. Analysts point to a tense rearrangement of relations between two partners forced to cooperate on various fronts.
The question about the cost that this interference will have, a very risky political bet – as several analysts warned at the time, even before the assault of Trump's followers on the capitol – looms over Colombian diplomacy. With the Democrats, the emphasis of the binational relationship no longer only deals with Venezuela or the fight against drugs, it also extends to human rights at a time when the Duque government has not been able to stop the incessant murder of both social leaders and former combatants who signed peace –248 according to the latest report from the UN mission–. In this environment, various opposition sectors are demanding the departure of the ambassador in Washington, Francisco Santos, vice president during Uribe's two terms (2002-2010) and architect of the support for Claver-Carone's candidacy at the IDB.
Increase pressure on Venezuela
In addition to being a historical ally, Colombia is also key for the United States due to its role in the strategy against neighboring Venezuela, probably the greatest source of instability in Latin America. Aligned with the Trump Administration, Duque has been the greatest regional supporter of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, awaiting the possible turnaround of Biden in the face of the Venezuelan crisis. Antony Blinken, nominated as the new secretary of state, gave some clues on Tuesday during his confirmation hearing in the Senate: He called Maduro a "brutal dictator," said he supported maintaining recognition of Guaidó as interim president and also of the National Assembly elected in 2015 as the only democratically elected institution in the country. He even said he agreed with the Republican senator from Florida Marco Rubio, one of those responsible for Trump's approach, on the need to "increase pressure on the regime."