March 10, 2017
9:48 am

Colombia Taking Care of Things Personally

In the wake of peace[i] between FARC and the Colombian Government, Colombia can focus more on its interests on the international stage. Unfortunately for them, the USA, one of their strongest North American allies, is going through some growing pains.

In fact, one news outlet referred to the USA as a potentially “toxic ally”[ii] due to the new Trump administration. One of the major issues is that President Trump has still – as of the date of this writing – not appointed a new Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, who is the person in charge of dealing with matters concerning Latin America. Understandably, Colombia feels as if this means their matters are not of any concern.

The role was previously filled during the Obama Administration by Mari Carmen Aponte, who left office on January 20th. The current Acting Assistant Secretary is Francisco Palmieri[iii], who was previously the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary from January 2016.

There is an undercurrent of thoughtlessness to not appointing someone to fill the role dealing with the USA’s allies in Latin America. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson doesn’t seem to be off to a great start[iv], questioning the extent to which “the United States should continue to support”[v] Colombia, and needing to “review the details” of the peace agreement. This is after President Obama, in February 2016, pledged $450 million USD to aid Colombia with its peace deal.

The nationalistically titled “America First Foreign Policy”[vi] seemingly sends a clear message that America will be looking after itself now, leaving its allies, like Colombia, wondering where exactly that leaves them. After protests all across the United States and the world against President Trump, it’s certain that Americans are wondering the same thing about themselves on the world stage.

Despite how Tillerson might be viewed, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos spoke with President Trump on the phone, a conversation which he referred to as “productive”[vii]. He has been invited to visit the White House to discuss things further, and that President Trump said he would take charge of things “personally”.

It seems, however, that the Pacific Alliance[viii] are taking care of things personally themselves. The trade bloc, which is made up by member nations Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile, has thrown its support behind Mexico ahead of trade talks with Trump’s administration. Trump has said he would like to either “rewrite or scrap” the US trade deal with Mexico, blaming it for trade deficits with the nation.

“This concerns all of us,” said Colombia’s Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas. “The Trump-Mexico theme has consequences beyond bilateral relations.”

It’s a fragile time for the two nations: one executing a peace deal to end a war that’s lasted 52 years; and the other dealing with a President with low approval ratings[ix] both inside and outside America, with seemingly “erratic”[x] behaviour.

[i] Associated Press in The Guardian, “Colombia’s government formally ratifies revised Farc peace deal“, December 1, 2016.

[ii] Adriaan Alsema for Colombia Reports, “Has the US become a toxic ally for Colombia?“, January 23, 2017.

[iii] U.S. Department of State, “Biography: Francisco Palmieri“, accessed March 7, 2017.

[iv] David Ignatius for The Washington Post, “Rex Tillerson is off to an agonizingly slow start“, March 9, 2017.

[v] Latin America Goes Global, “Secretary-of-State-designate Rex Tillerson’s confirmation answers on Latin American policy“, January 20, 2017. 

[vi] The White House, “America First Foreign Policy“, accessed March 8, 2017.

[vii] Agence France-Presse (AFP) in The Guardian (Nigeria), “Colombia’s Santos asks Trump to support peace process“, February 12, 2017.

[viii] Javiera Quiroga for the Australian Financial Review, “‘Challenging Times’: Pacific Alliance bands together against Trump“, March 11, 2017.

[ix] Brett Logiurato for Business Inside Australia, “Trump just received the lowest approval rating in the modern era for a new US president“, February 4, 2017.

[x] Bess Levin for Vanity Fair, “Billionaire ‘Oracle’ Warns Trump’s ‘Erratic’ Behavior Could Spell Disaster for America”, February 7, 2017.



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