Peace, Drugs, and Tough Love for Colombia’s Santos in WashingtonMay 18 2017
When Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos became the first Latin American leader to secure a phone call with President Donald Trump, he saw it as golden opportunity to sell the freshly installed U.S. leader on the virtues of Colombia’s peace accord with the FARC rebel group. Instead, he found himself discussing the mounting crisis in Colombia’s neighbor, Venezuela. Santos will hope to stay on message and secure funding for peace implementation when he visits the White House on Thursday, but the Trump administration’s continuing focus on Venezuela, the reescalation of the drug war, and lingering doubts on the peace accord will test Santos’s mastery of a changed Washington.
Entering the final year of his presidency with strong political headwinds, President Santos nonetheless arrives with reasons for optimism. After years of tough negotiations, last December he achieved a legacy-defining peace deal with the FARC — and added the Nobel Peace Prize to his mantle. While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declined to endorse the Colombian peace agreement in his confirmation hearing, Trump later signaled support in his February call with Santos and Congress funded the full “Peace Colombia” assistance package originally proposed by the Obama administration to help Colombia implement its ambitious 310-page accord. Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio, who has refrained from backing the peace agreement, nonetheless backed continued U.S. aid to the country. And on Wednesday evening, with Santos in attendance, a bipartisan Atlantic Council task force chaired by Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) will endorse a version of the Peace Colombia framework as the successor to Plan Colombia, Washington’s $10 billion, 15-year state building and counternarcotics strategy in Colombia. (Full disclosure: I served as a consultant to the task force.)