On November 19, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted “A Conversation with Iván Duque Márquez,” welcoming back Colombian President Iván Duque for a wide-ranging discussion on his administration’s priorities and the future of the US-Colombia relationship amidst an incoming US administration. The Biden administration is expected to append a broader set of concerns to the bilateral agenda, creating both challenges and opportunities for US-Colombia relations going forward. In addition to this, Duque discussed his administration’s efforts to combat threats from armed groups and drug traffickers, the response to the Venezuelan crisis, as well as plans for peace agreement implementation with the FARC. Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, moderated the conversation.
Speaking from hard-hit San Andrés, Duque began by addressing the devastation caused by Hurricane Iota, noting that the catastrophe was the first time Colombian soil had experienced a category five hurricane. In his opening remarks, Duque reviewed the foremost accomplishments of his administration, first beginning with economic measures that have achieved a major reduction of the fiscal deficit and the creation of an entrepreneurship-focused agenda. Duque affirmed that his administration is focused on a gradual reactivation of the economy, aiming for 5% growth in 2021. Second is the administration’s security efforts, which has resulted in the highest numbers of illegal drug seizures and the lowest homicide rates in nearly half a decade. Thirdly, his administration is focused on a “peace with legality” agenda that has allowed for the continuity of peace agreement implementation, with the support of the United States. Since the year 2000, Duque remarked, this bilateral relationship has contained two criteria for success— bipartisan and bicameral support from the US Congress. He noted that his government has worked closely with the Trump administration and will continue to do so under the Biden administration, recognizing that the relationship with the United States “will continue to be strengthened no matter the political changes.” Duque noted that along with continued security cooperation, he looks forward to working with the incoming administration on issues of energy transition, climate change, and additional environmental measures.
Asked by Shifter to reflect on Colombia’s progress towards unity throughout his administration, Duque noted that Colombia is not alone in its divisions, but that there are numerous issues that can “unite the country on a long-term vision.” These include the acceleration of the social agenda through the improvement of healthcare, energy transition to nonconventional renewables, and increased technological access. He reiterated that Colombians have “different views on certain topics but as a nation, the values, the principles, and the objectives necessary for [Colombia’s] social transformation are in place.” When asked to discuss the killings of Colombian social leaders, Duque addressed the drivers of violence, stating “if there is more coca, there is more violence” as social leaders have been killed by “terrorist groups funded by narcotrafficking.” He highlighted the government’s security measures meant to terminate the exponential growth of coca production in order to ultimately bring about the eradication and substitution of illicit crops, a plan that has led to an overall reduction in illegal crop growth.
When asked what changes he would recommend to amend US policy toward Venezuela, Duque stated that the United States’ likewise bipartisan and bicameral action on Venezuela must remain so. He further urged that as “Guaidó himself alone will not change the situation,” pressure from the international community must consolidate and strengthen against the Maduro regime in order to force its end. Duque emphasized the gravity of the humanitarian crisis, with more than 6 million Venezuelan refugees having fled in total by the end of the year. Of these, 2 million have been absorbed by Colombia, a number that grows unsustainable with the effects of the pandemic now demanding heavy resources, Duque warned.
Turning to his vision for the role of China in Colombia and the broader region, Duque recognized that China has a starring role in economic relations with the region as Latin American countries, including Colombia, receive imports while also hoping to increase exports to close trade deficits. While Colombia has continued trade and diplomatic relations with China, Duque reiterated that Colombia’s state policy for decades now is that “Colombia is the United States’ strongest ally in Latin America […] based on common values of our democracy and our free economy.” He noted that the US’s strategy toward the region includes, not only shared values but efforts toward permanent trade and investment relationships. Duque stated, “Colombia wants to always be number one in that relationship.”
The event concluded with a Q&A session. Asked to address the perceived politicization of US-Colombia relations following public support by several Colombian elected officials for the Trump administration, Duque made clear that no one within his administration was allowed to make comments on the US elections in favor of a candidate, noting that he would have advised the congressmen not to take sides as “it exacerbated sentiments that were unnecessary.” Duque went on to answer additional questions on Hurricane Iota response and the evolution of the Colombian healthcare system amidst the pandemic, a situation that has led to Colombia doubling its ICU bed capacity and increasing the use of telemedicine. Duque also responded to questions on his administration’s legal reforms to combat what he called Colombia’s “impunity piñata”. Duque ended by reiterated that he values cooperation with the present and future US administrations, saying the way in which the US and Colombia relationship has been managed is a showcase for other situations that might occur in the Americas and elsewhere.
‘Estoy seguro que relación con EE.UU. se seguirá fortaleciendo’: Duque (El Tiempo, November 19, 2020)
Enfoque bipartidista y bicameral, la clave con EU (El Nuevo Siglo, November 20, 2020)
“Mi antecesor dijo que Hillary Clinton era más favorable para Colombia”: Duque a Santos (Semana, November 20, 2020)
Duque pide ayuda aérea a EEUU para resolver emergencia humanitaria en el Caribe Colombiano (Infobae, November 20, 2020)