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Joe Biden vows to deepen US cooperation with Colombia

April 20, 2023

US President Joe Biden met his Colombian counterpart, Gustavo Petro, amid deep differences on US drug policy and Venezuela. However, the leaders vowed to deepen cooperation to enhance democracy in the Americas.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro (left) and US President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden and Colombian President Gustavo Petro meet in the Oval Office of the White HouseImage: Susan Walsh/AP/picture alliance

US President Joe Biden praised Colombian President Gustavo Petro's human rights record during their first meeting at the White House on Thursday.

The leaders, in remarks before reporters at the start of the Oval Office meeting, tried to keep the focus on areas of agreement, including strengthening their democracies and building economies less dependent on fossil fuels.

"We are going down the same river, a river that leads us to ever-greater democracy and ever-greater freedom," Petro said. "We have a common agenda and a lot of work to do."

Biden said the countries shared a goal to build a "united, equal, democratic and economically prosperous" western hemisphere, adding that "Colombia is the key to the hemisphere."

From fossil fuels to a green economy

In his remarks, Petro emphasized the need for an "in-depth" shift from fossil fuels to a green economy — something Biden has prioritized during his presidency, with a historic funding bill to encourage climate-friendly technology.

"We have the greatest potential for democracy and freedom in the Americas, as well as the greatest potential for green energies," Petro said.

Petro was elected in June in part of a wave of left-leaning leaders to win power in Latin America.

Colombia's first leftist president sworn in

Different approaches to Venezuela

The US president highlighted Colombia's welcoming of large numbers of refugees from neighboring Venezuela, whose far-left government has overseen years of economic collapse and violent political tension.

Petro, his country's first leftist president, made no mention in the public segment of his remarks on the crisis in Venezuela, where the United States has tried in vain to oust the far-left leader Nicolas Maduro.

Under Petro, Colombia's policy toward Venezuela's authoritarian government has shifted. Colombia no longer backs US-led plans to isolate Maduro and force him to resign or call for new elections. Instead, Petro's administration has engaged the Maduro, held bilateral meetings and resumed diplomatic relations.

Combating drug trafficking

Biden said more could be done to deepen US cooperation with Colombia to combat drug trafficking — another area where the countries take different approaches.

Earlier, Petro sharply criticized US-led efforts to prohibit cocaine, saying at a speech at the United Nations last year that oil consumption promoted by "global powers" is more deadly than cocaine and that the "war on drugs has failed."

As cocaine production in Colombia continues to rise, Petro's government has been reluctant to eradicate coca fields planted by small farmers. The Colombian president said he prefers to chase money launderers and large-scale drug traffickers instead of stripping small farmers in isolated areas of their livelihood.

dh/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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