Petro takes first diplomatic steps with Biden and Venezuela

Border crossing at Tachirá, Venezuela.

President-elect Gustavo Petro appears to have skipped his swearing-in ceremony on August 7, to make his first diplomatic moves. On Wednesday, Colombia’s first leftist leader confirmed on his Twitter account that he spoke with the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro to fully reopen the border.

Despite the fact that Petro has yet to announce key cabinet appointments, including his choice for Foreign Minister, the easing of tensions along the 2,200km border with Venezuela is an imminent fait accompli, and his call to “restore human rights” along this key commercial corridor sent a direct message to Caracas that improved bilateral relations are on a fast-track.

Petro’s sudden announcement comes on the heels of an equally swift exchange of words between the incoming president and U.S President Joe Biden. Within 36 hours after officially declared Colombia’s next president, his soon-to-be U.S counterpart Joe Biden picked up the phone to congratulate the leftist leader on his victory, and during 20-minutes the two leaders discussed issues relating to climate change, health security, and implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord with the ex-Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla.

According to a White House press release, President Biden “commended the Colombian people for holding free and fair elections and reaffirmed U.S. support for Colombia.” Biden also “welcomed the opportunity to discuss bilateral security and counternarcotics cooperation.”

Not since the 2002 election of conservative President Álvaro Uribe, during the administration of George W. Bush, has the Oval Office reacted with such a swift courtesy call to a newly-elected president. Petro also received messages from world leaders, among them Canada’s Justin Trudeau, who stressed the importance of working together on “women’s equality, peace and climate change.” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief, welcomed Petro’s victory as a vote “for a more egalitarian society.”

With Latin America’s “Pink Tide” governments occupying a territorial area that extends from Argentina and Chile up the eastern flank of the continent, and into Central America, president-elect Petro has not shortage of allies within a rapidly expanding economic bloc that could also include Brazil should Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva take power from his far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in a federal election later this year.

As the most recent country to flip its political colors, the U.S has made clear that it wants to have open lines of communication with Petro, hence, one of the fastest calls made to a Latin American official, and one whose past is tinged with militancy ever since he took up arms as a combatant within the M-19 guerrilla. But Petro, however, is also an economist, educated at the Externado University in Bogotá, and who holds post graduate degrees from the Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium), and University of Salamanca (Spain).

After thirty years influencing this country’s political outcome, from his revolutionary youth to congressional representative, Mayor of Bogotá, Senator of the Republic and now President-elect, Petro’s time has arrived, but the future of many “Pink Tide” governments across the hemisphere – even the most fiery Red – may not outlive his four-year mandate.