Duque and Trump: A shared vision

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President Iván Duque’s trip last month to the United Nations to address the annual General Assembly was punctuated by a scheduled meeting with U.S President Donald Trump, and declarations in which both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening an already-strong bilateral relationship. Using lots of hyperbole to extol the election victory of the 42-year old economist, Trump went on to remark that his strongest Latin American ally will take a hard line against drugs and drug cartels. Then, the punch line of the press conference: “Now, if he comes through, we think he’s the greatest. If he doesn’t come through, he’s just another President of Colombia.” Trump and Duque got off to a resounding start in a 20-minute meeting that set the tone for the first official visit to the country of the U.S President.

Scheduled for November in Bogotá, if the transcript from the New York press conference offers any clues as to what we can expect by the next time these two leaders meet, is that Duque will have to prove that a) he isn’t just another president, and b) his three-month-old administration has a solution to slash the exponential growth in coca that now covers 171,000 hectares – according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The environmental toll of the illegal harvest has also devastated large tracts of Colombia’s endangered rainforest. But, for the world leader that scoffed the Paris climate accords, the plight of our trees is a non sequitur.

The planned November visit also marks a watershed moment for U.S foreign policy toward South America. Trump needs to consolidate new friendships in the hemisphere as time-tested ones (Canada’s Trudeau, Germany’s Merkel and even France’s Macron), are being dissed in the global arena.

While Duque has reiterated his commitment to dismantling the cartels and curbing domestic drug consumption, which also seems to be spiraling out of control, Trump appears to be looking beyond the proliferation of the cash crop to reward those Latin American nations that “cherish democratic values,” or in other words, a shared vision.

The words “shared” and “vision” seem to anticipate a visit that will also address a negotiated settlement to the political stalemate in Venezuela. “I know from the standpoint of Colombia, and other nations fairly close by [that what is going on in Venezuela] is also very unacceptable,” remarked Trump when asked about the possibility of military intervention to topple President Maduro.

Trump appears to see regime change in Venezuela as more than flexing military muscle, and going it alone would exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Colombia, unless the porous border can be sealed off. In just one year, Trump has gone from “considering” military force in Venezuela, to claiming at the UN General Assembly that change could come “very quickly” if the Venezuelan military “decided to do that.”

How much pressure South American leaders influenced a marked change in Trump’s tone toward Maduro is anyone’s guess, as high-level policy decisions of this nature tend to be very tight-lipped.

Duque’s New York speech did elevate the discourse when he called on the world to act in order to “end the dictatorship.” Then, hours after the Colombian President’s debut on the world’s stage, Maduro extended an olive branch, saying: “Despite the differences…I would be willing to reach out my hand to the president of the United States.” This, after accusing Colombia and the U.S, of attempting to assassinate him with a drone.

No meeting between Trump and Maduro is on the cards yet, but given the speed at which geopolitics is changing under this Republican leader’s administration, we may find that after consolidating their “shared vision” in Bogotá, there could be a seismic shift beyond the border, ending more than a decade of U.S-Venezuela detente.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Colombia is a beautiful and rich tropical country whose wealth is being mismanaged because of corrupt officials and pressure from the USA. Why is Colombia which is very wealthy in natural resources still treating its laborers (after all the wealth of the nation is mostly created by manual labor) as slaves with such a low minimum wage, and lack of basic health and social services? The USA does not want Colombia and all other Central and South American nations to develop peacefully and to get ahead, because that would mean higher labor wages and therefore higher prices for their exports like bananas, coffee etc to American and Canadian citizens. On the contrary, USA wants Colombia to clamp down heavily on cocoa plantation and to criminilise coca producers. It is true that the consumption of illicit drugs do a lot of harm, but so do medical drugs. And since the Americans can fill in Colombia’s appetite for medicinals, so also can Colombia satisfy Americans the great demand for coca. It is a double edged sword which Colombia can use in its treaties with the dominant and coercive USA, but which Colombia is failing to do. While justice seems to have been thrown to the dogs especially with the immunity towards murderers of journalists, and native leaders by para military forces and other gangsters, it is very sad to see young unprotected mothers begging for money and prostituting themselves to foreigners on the website Colombian Cupid in the name of Love. The rot in Colombia stems from the core and there needs to be a great change. That is why the people are taking to the streets as they have the right to do in a democratic society. Trump can shout “America First” as much as he likes, but Duque and his associates ought to do the same and serve their citizens honorably by shouting aloud “Colombia First!”
    I am a Canadian citizen living on the tiny desert island nation of Malta in the EU, where in spite of its over population, lack of natural resources, with not even enough water to drink, all health and most education services are free, and the basic minimum wage is over 200 dollars a week while the nation is experiencing an economic boom. Imagine if the vast wealthy nation of Colombia with its oil, gas, gold, emeralds, coffee, tropical fruits, fisheries in both Caribbean and Atlantic seas, together with the forests and mountains and rivers …. imagine what the Maltese entrepreneurs would do! It is said that one of the past presidents of Colombia was of Maltese descent, Sampier that is, and presently one of the US Democratic hopefuls, Pete Buttigieg is also the son of Maltese immigrants.. I for one, was seriously thinking of retiring in the tropical paradise of Colombia, but lately I have changed my mind and I think I will choose Mexico instead. Unless….unless soon things get changed for the better in Colombia and life becomes more civilized.

  2. I’m not sure if I agree with the premise that leaders of Latin American nations successfully exerted some degree of pressure on Trump to back off his mention of military intervention in Venezuela. Trump likely never had any intention of putting US boots on the ground there. The States has quite enough on its plate just now, but merely holding out the specter of military intervention may have served a legitimate tactical purpose.

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