Colombia – U.S start Tenth High-Level Dialogue in Washington

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Colombian Chancellor Álvaro Leyva Durán during start of X High-Level Dialogues in Washington. Photo: Cancillería.

A high-level delegation from the Colombian Government, represented by Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva, arrived in Washington D.C on Monday to participate in the Tenth U.S-Colombia High-Level Dialogue at the State Department.

Almost sixteen months since the ninth edition of the U.S-Colombia High-Level Dialogue was held in Bogotá, U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered the opening statements, in which he highlighted that the “dialogue, like a two centuries old friendship is built on a shared foundation, of two vibrant democracies, committed to ensuring that our people can reach their full potential.”

Secretary of State Blinken outlined “concrete steps” to tackle a range of issues that affect both countries, the hemisphere and global community, among them, the existential threat of climate change, protection of the Amazon, migration, improving civilian security and law enforcement. “We recognize that in order to sustainably reduce violence, we have to tackle the root causes of insecurity, like corruption, like impunity, and lack of economic opportunity.” Blinken also recognized that the dialogue offers an opportunity to address “unprecedented migration across the hemisphere”.

These talks, first to be conducted under President Gustavo Petro, comes as the leftist administration has faced criticism from the US over the slow progress with manual eradication of coca, and recent statements by the country’s Attorney General, Francisco Barbosa, that the country could be decertified by the US given the surge in the illegal crops. “I hope Colombia fights not to become a narco-state,” said Barbosa.

Secretary Blinken noted that “countering these illicit groups and the flow of illegal drugs is a key part of our ongoing discussions on security. We’re bringing a holistic approach to this challenge.” A “holistic” approach that entails – in Blinken’s words – “reducing demand by investing in substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery for those who are struggling with addiction in our countries – because this is fundamentally a public health problem.”

As the U.S-Colombia talks look to stem the flow of illegal drugs by strengthening interdiction by land and sea, the Petro government must also sell its “total peace” policy stateside after the largest drugs cartel in the country – Gulf Clan – broke a ceasefire during a miners’ strike in the department of Antioquia. The decision by the Colombian government to exclude the 3,800-strong paramilitary organization from “total peace” has been accompanied by belligerent statements from the Maoist National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla that they will continue to attack the state’s security forces. On Sunday, the ELN attacked an army unit in the department of Chocó, killing one solider and injuring two others. The ELN is set to resume peace talks with the Colombian government on May 2, in Cuba.

Despite two of the country’s largest criminal organizations continuing attacks against civilians, as well as vulnerable populations, Foreign Minister, Álvaro Leyva made no direct reference during his speech in Washington to “total peace”, nor the reasons why there has been a dramatic reduction in manual coca eradication, stating that Colombia “used to be a nation known for cocaine,” and now is a country finding “solutions for seeking ways of putting an end to the disappearance of humankind.”

While ways to combat climate change is a priority in the bilateral agenda, the challenge ahead in the Biden-Petro relationship will be to meet words with concrete actions, especially as the South American nation could see more than 300,000 hectares of coca grown this year, and one of the leading causes of Amazonian deforestation.