Colombia’s Defense Minister said Wednesday he believed the United States will maintain the amount of aid promised by former President Barack Obama, but questioned by the administration of President Donald Trump.
Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas met with the US’ international counter-narcotics chief William Brownfield to discuss US support for Colombia’s anti-narcotics efforts and an ongoing peace process with Marxist FARC rebels.
Villegas made his claim on the day after Brownfield confirmed the US was still revising the volume of aid as earlier claimed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Trump had said he would “personally” take charge of the decision of aid to Colombia, but failed to commit to the $450 million promise made by his predecessor.
He and his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, are expected to meet in the first half of this year.
Amid all this uncertainty, Villegas said that the conversations between the two point towards “maintaining the additional aid coming from the Obama administration.”
“The talks we had over the past two days with Brownfield point […] towards maintaining the additional amount of aid that has come since the Obama administration and that in this case would be maintained for our plan,” he said.
Colombia is one of the United States’ closest allies in Latin America, and has long enjoyed support from both Democrats and Republicans in anti-narcotic and counter-insurgency efforts.
Last year, former US President Barack Obama announced that the United States would continue to support Colombia’s peace process with the FARC rebel group, and that he would ask Congress for $450 million in aid for the country’s peace and counter-narcotics initiatives.
But since Donald Trump has taken office, things seem a lot murkier.
In his confirmation hearing in January, Rex Tillerson, the U.S. Secretary of State, said he would have to review Colombia’s peace agreement with the FARC rebel group and “determine the extent to which the United States should support it.” He also raised the importance of holding Colombia to its commitment to “reign in drug production and trafficking.”
In February, after a brief phone conversation with Trump, Santos tweeted that the US president “expressed his support for peace and his wishes to maintain great relations with Colombia.”
Sostuvimos una productiva conversación con @POTUS quien me expresó su apoyo a la paz y deseo de mantener las mejores relaciones con Colombia
— Juan Manuel Santos (@JuanManSantos) February 12, 2017
But four days later, Colombia’s ambassador to the U.S., Juan Carlos Pinzon, wrote an op-ed for political website The Hill arguing that the United States “stands to gain” from supporting Colombia’s peace process, suggesting there was still some resistance to the peace process within Washington.
This changing tide seems largely due to a shift in focus within the Trump administration. Anti-narcotic–rather than peace building–efforts now seem to be taking a central role in the diplomatic relations between the two countries.
On Wednesday, Villegas noted that the recent uptick in Colombia’s coca production is a cause for concern, but also underlined the role that the demand for cocaine, especially from American consumers, must also be addressed.
“Although we are going to see growing numbers in crop production, the truth is that we have acted with all hardness on the production chain, especially in terms of interdiction,” said Villegas. “We hope for equal efforts at the consumer level on behalf of the new administration of the United States.”