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The Inter-American Dialogue co-hosted an event with President Ivan Duque Marquez called “Colombia’s Domestic and Regional Opportunities and Challenges.” The event took place on February 14 at the amphitheater of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, CNBC Contributor moderated the event. President Duque covered various domestic issues including implementation of the peace process and tax reform, as well as regional issues such as the humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela, and Colombia’s diplomatic relations.
The conversation began with the theme of the Venezuelan crisis. Duque emphasized the importance of recognizing Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela to resolve this crisis. He referred to Juan Guaidá as “the light at the end of the tunnel” for the Venezuelan people. Caruso-Cabrera asked President Duque about the possibility of military intervention in Venezuela, the possibility of amnesty for top military officials, and what steps would be taken if Nicolás Maduro fled to Havana or Moscow. President Duque responded that there will be no amnesty for Maduro, and that military officials need to be held accountable for their actions. If Maduro fled, what matters most is that the Venezuelan people get rid of him.
Duque, as repeatedly in the past ever since he was a candidate for the presidency of Colombia in 2018, has used the case of the neighbor being mistreated by her husband to illustrate the need for intervention. His concept of intervention has always emphasized his preference for a diplomatic exit from the Venezuelan crisis. However, he did not provide clear concrete steps for diplomatic negotiation. When prompted again to speak about military intervention, President Duque evaded the question of his willingness to use military intervention in Venezuela. Instead, he drew attention to his repeated meetings with Mike Pence and the famous notebook by John Bolton with the note “5000 troops to Colombia.” It is evident from the length and depth of his response that the crisis in Venezuela is a priority for the Duque administration.
Caruso-Cabrera then led the conversation to the national issues of drugs, the peace process, and negotiations with the ELN. In terms of his policies against drugs, the president said that Colombia will continue to use coca aerial fumigations, but that the most effective solution to eradicate these crops is a combination of many mechanisms. When asked about legalization, President Duque firmly stated that the problem is both social and moral, a position that he has maintained since his candidacy for the presidency.
President Duque has also maintained a firm position against tolerating violence by illegal armed groups such as the ELN, reiterating that he would negotiate with the ELN only if the armed group released the hostages. He explained that violence should not be a means to express political ideology and that his government will continue to have a tough stance against criminals. He ended his response saying that, “the only protocol he will follow while he is president of Colombia is to bring the criminals to justice.”
.@lviscidi, Director of the Dialogue’s Energy Program asks President Duque, “how important is the energy sector for fiscal balance?” He responds, “It is an important part of our economy. Be we cannot solely rely on oil. We must diversify.” #DuqueDC pic.twitter.com/mSVJYQSImv
— The Inter-American Dialogue (@The_Dialogue) February 14, 2019
The guerrilla groups and drug cartels have exacerbated many of Colombia’s problems. Duque explained how it is logical to think that a solution with the FARC, an influencer in coca production, could reduce production and therefore reduce the problems associated with coca production. However, this has not been the case. In the last three years, Colombia has seen a dramatic increase in coca production. Duque expressed how the solution to the problem cannot and must not be unilateral. As Caruso-Cabrera mentioned, Colombia’s geography, suitable for growing coca, is both a blessing and a curse as long as the demand for the product from Americans and Europeans continues to grow.
Finally, the economic issues of tax reforms and foreign investment were discussed. President Duque spoke extensively about the controversial reform, which was not approved in its entirety by the Colombian congress. Duque argued for the importance of the reform because of Colombia’s growing fiscal deficit and budget constraints. He also added the importance of not restricting the economic activities of the private sector since it is the sector that drives the economy and creates the most jobs. However, he also cited the 2008 financial crisis to emphasize that the market must have appropriate government regulations to ensure its proper functioning. Finally, reference was made to Chinese foreign investment, to which Duque responded that Colombia will receive foreign investment from China as well as other nations.
After the discussion, President Duque answered questions raised by the co-hosts of the event. Lisa Viscidi, director of the Dialogue’s Energy Program asked about the role of the energy sector in fiscal balance. President Duque responded that the energy sector plays an important part in the Colombian economy, but that it is critical not to rely solely on oil. He pointed to the necessity of diversifying.