Following the “Dear President Trump, it’s an honor to be with you in the White House,” there’s a number of imminent issues Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos is likely to discuss when meeting you.
Let me get straight to the point by speaking to your chief concern, which is: Of what benefit is Colombia to the United States?
First, Colombia is by far America’s strongest and most experienced military ally in Latin America and the home of tens of thousands of American citizens.
The bi-partisan military partnership is decades old. Your military trained and equipped Colombia’s. It uses Colombian troops and police to work for you, training security forces in more than 60 countries, from Afghanistan to Uruguay, including more than a dozen in Latin America.
Colombia is one of your most reliable military proxies in the world. And among other things, your assurance that the Venezuelan virus will not spread west.
Second, Colombia is your most attractive investment partner in Latin America.
It’s the easiest place to do business in South America, according to the World Bank. Your dollar is strong compared to the peso, making investments especially attractive. US investment in Colombia is welcomed and treasured.
Those are just two of the ways Colombia is of great benefit to the United States, and is working hard to maintain and develop the strong partnership that benefits both countries.
But there are a few things you could do to help the South American country to accomplish that:
Send an ambassador, an official American presence in Bogota, someone respected in Washington who can work with Colombians on a day-to-day basis.
It is four months since your Obama-appointed ambassador was asked to resign, but he remains and there is no sign of a replacement. The lack of an ambassador from your administration gives hope to those cynics who argue against the tight relationship with the US.
Support the work to establish rule of law in areas of the country abandoned by the FARC and now being contested by rival armed forces.
Frankly speaking, Colombia is at a decision point. The lack of government control over all the nation’s territory is the potential Achilles heel that could undo the twenty-year success story.
You can help in two important ways. Maximum support is needed for the security forces as they engage the armed gangs now terrorizing parts of the countryside.
Also essential is your public support for the peace process with the former FARC rebels. Silence or ambiguity generates anxiety about the future of the alliance. An enthusiastic, public shout-out for the Colombian peace process would strengthen it.
Colombia’s rebirth is a winning program, Mr. President, but to be candid, the signals so far from your administration are ambiguous. Please end that uncertainty.
Give your Congress leeway to take actions to maintain the long, bi-partisan alliance. While your foreign aid proposal is appreciated, if there is support in Congress for a restoration of the cuts you’ve asked for, please don’t stand in the way.
Both countries must work together to stamp out the cocaine menace. Even as I am determined to eliminate Colombia’s role as a cocaine supplier, I believe the current emphasis on military solutions is counter-productive. I’m not asking you to share my view on the dangers of the so-called war on drugs. I would, however, respectfully remind you that this is an issue requiring long-term, hard work on both the supply side and the demand side.
Colombia is under great pressure by your country to reduce its coca acreage as fast as possible. And considerable security resources are dedicated to coca eradication. But not without great cost.
These actions have provoked a strong counter-reaction from farmers who feel misled. They were promised an enormous infrastructure building project to give them access to the world economy, as they wean themselves off the profitable coca business. But that is yet to happen.
If coca farmers are to find customers for other products, they must have ways to get their products to market. Coca farmers need roads built so legitimate buyers can access alternative crops.
In that regard, the infrastructure needs of the agricultural sector will require the purchase of considerable heavy construction equipment, the sort your Midwestern industrial companies excel at. Colombia’s work building roads and other infrastructure would bring good jobs to your country, in a perfect example of win-win partnerships.
The faster the rule of law can be established and the needed rural infrastructure can be built, the faster will the coca cash crop be eliminated
In conclusion, President Trump, you are positioned to be the best American friend Colombia has ever had. The country is well on the way to being Latin America’s No. 1 success story, and that triumph—with your help—will earn you deserved plaudits for your international leadership skills.
You have a high-gain, low-cost opportunity to benefit your country and enhance America’s leadership in the Americas. Colombians are ready to work at your side.