On Thursday, Colombian President Gustavo Petro met with US President Joe Biden to discuss issues such as climate change, migration, and drug policy. Petro reiterated his clean-energy platform and called for Colombia’s economy to move away from its reliance on oil, coal, and gas. Biden echoed Petro’s call for greater cooperation between the two countries, particularly in combating international drug trafficking.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby framed the US-Colombia relationship as a “true partnership” and a question of domestic defense. He stated that Colombia’s security and prosperity remain a national security interest of the United States. The two leaders discussed progress on these and other issues during their meeting.
Earlier in the day, Petro met with Democratic lawmakers Nancy Pelosi and Jim McGovern, calling them “great friends.” Petro has moved to reestablish relations with neighboring Venezuela after years of tensions under previous administrations. He has called for the US to ease economic sanctions against Venezuela, citing its continuing economic crisis. Millions of Venezuelans have left the country seeking economic opportunities elsewhere.
Washington and Bogotá reached an agreement last week to collaborate on an effort to crack down on irregular migration through the Darien Gap, connecting Colombia with its northern neighbor Panama. When asked about US sanctions towards Venezuela, Kirby stated that the US was willing to reevaluate its policy if there were “constructive steps by the Maduro regime” to “return to a democracy” in the country.
Petro took office in August 2022, after campaigning on a platform that promised a new approach to addressing the country’s decades-long internal conflict. His administration has promised peace talks and negotiations with armed groups in the hope of ending the conflict. A June report by Colombia’s Truth Commission was highly critical of previous administrations’ militarized approach to combating drug manufacturing and trafficking, which the commission accused of prolonging the conflict and leading to human rights abuses. It estimated that more than 450,000 have been killed in the fighting.
Colombia has remained the world’s largest producer of cocaine, but it has partnered with the US on its global “war on drugs,” a campaign of military intervention and aid to stamp out drug trafficking. In the early 2000s, the US poured millions of dollars into the South American nation as part of a controversial initiative called “Plan Colombia,” designed to target groups with ties to the drug trade.
However, Petro’s plans for “total peace” in Colombia have faced challenges. Despite ongoing negotiations with organized criminal groups and remaining rebels, the country’s internal violence has continued. In late March, an attack allegedly carried out by the left-wing ELN rebel group killed nine Colombian soldiers in a blow to the peace talks.
A report published in March by the Red Cross found that fighting overall between the government and armed groups had decreased. It welcomed Petro’s efforts to promote negotiations. However, the report also concluded that violence has continued to harm civilians, displacing more than 180,000 people in 2022.
In conclusion, the meeting between Petro and Biden aimed to address critical issues such as climate change, migration, and drug policy. Petro reiterated his clean-energy platform and called for Colombia’s economy to move away from its reliance on oil, coal, and gas. Biden echoed Petro’s call for greater cooperation between the two countries, particularly in combating international drug trafficking. While Petro’s plans for “total peace” in Colombia have faced challenges, his administration has promised peace talks and negotiations with armed groups in the hope of ending the conflict.