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The U.S.-Colombian Bilateral Relationship: Challenges and Opportunities for the Duque Administration

Date & Time

Oct. 18, 2018
9:00am – 10:30am


5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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The U.S.-Colombian Bilateral Relationship: Challenges and Opportunities for the Duque Administration

Since 1999, the U.S.-Colombian relationship has privileged multiple objectives, from the fight against drug trafficking, to the extension of the state’s legitimate presence throughout the national territory, the consolidation of peace, and the provision of security training and expertise to third countries.  President Iván Duque was one of a handful of heads of state to meet with President Donald Trump on the margins of the UN General Assembly, and the Duque administration has reached out to senior U.S. officials and members of Congress from both parties to continue and deepen the bipartisan cooperation that has characterized bilateral relations. 

While the recent surge in coca production in Colombia has attracted headlines, what other priorities does the Duque government hope to advance?  How can the United States and Colombia continue to cooperate to advance security, economic, and development interests, including in rural areas?  What are the next steps in implementing the peace agreement? 

Colombian Ambassador Francisco Santos, who presented his credentials to the White House in September 2018, discussed these issues with Cindy Arnson. 

 Selected Quotes

Amb. Francisco Santos

“We have to get ready for a dramatic increase in immigration from Venezuela to Colombia. That will destabilize Colombia, and an unstable Colombia is a huge mess for the U.S. I can’t relay to you how big that problem would be. So we need a solution to the Venezuelan crisis.”

“We are identifying how to work with and how to reintegrate [FARC members,] that is an urgent problem and I think the government understands it. Unfortunately, there is a problem regarding that. The FARC wanted to hold control. They wanted to keep control of the groups that they demobilized, and that was impossible. The only way to work on that is one-by-one. They want to go back to their families…we need to pick up the pieces and start one-by-one reintegrating them.” 

“I think the situation in Venezuela is getting worse by the second. Every second it gets worse. The deterioration of the people that we’re seeing that come through in terms of health, it’s increasing. We see it every day. It’s a building that is falling on top of you. It’s not shaking, it’s falling on top of you.  We have that problem day in and day out. What I think is anything will solve the problem, because what cannot happen is the status quo that we have now…I think we need more political isolation, more economic pressure, whatever pressure is needed, I think it should be on the table.”

“[In the past,] drug trafficking as a whole was seen as one of the biggest challenges Colombian society had. Drug trafficking as a whole was seen as a national security issue. That is not so anymore. What we are going to do in these four years is not only reestablish that belief, even though we will never have the consensus that we had before; it is going to be very clear that planting coca is not legal. It is not acceptable. It’s an illegal issue. That is a message that has to be sent very, very clearly.”

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Latin American Program

The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin American Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action.  Read more

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