The US ambassador-nominee to Colombia, Joseph Macmanus, had an easy time before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, despite threats by some Republicans to challenge his appointment.
Macmanus appeared before the senate committee on Wednesday after threats to challenge the appointment of the career diplomat the embassy in Bogota.
Easing his path to confirmation were his focus on the urgency of combating the production of coca and his statement that “clearly Venezuela, as a regional threat and as a threat to Colombia, is the principal problem of today, of right now.”
Those are topics of great importance to Senate Republicans, who control the nomination process. It now appears likely Macmanus will be approved by the Foreign Relations Committee and the full Senate, and then take up his position in Bogota.
Macmanus, a career diplomat, had his nomination threatened earlier by three Senators who questioned his commitment to President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda, his lack of private sector business experience and his close ties with Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State.
It is normal practice for an incoming president to nominate new ambassadors to every country, but Trump has been notoriously slow in sending nominations to the Senate for confirmation. As a result, President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, has remained in the position for more than a year since Trump took office.
One of the Republicans leading the public attacks on Macmanus was Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and led Wednesday’s questioning of Macmanus.
Rubio began by asking Macmanus about his role in the US response to a terrorist attack on diplomats in Libya in 2012. Keeping the Libya issue alive is part of a continuing effort by Republicans to undermine Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time with Macmanus as her executive secretary.
But after the questions — which seemed more rhetorical than substantive — and Macmanus’ short answers, Rubio dropped the topic and it didn’t come up again.
The Flrida senator asked Macmanus about the increase in coca production in Colombia, attributing it mainly to promises in the FARC peace agreement for cash payments to farmers who give up coca cultivation. This is a conservative talking point to blame FARC for the increase in coca.
Macmanus acknowledged that was a factor but stressed it was just one of a number of reasons for the surge in production, which as he noted began before the peace treaty was written.
Referring to US-Colombian diplomatic meetings earlier this month, Macmanus said: “The Colombians have committed themselves to an eradication within five years to a level of 50% of current numbers. We believe there are the appropriate tools and the professionalized military–that was one of the outcomes of Plan Colombia–that lead to the ability of Colombia to do that.”
Rubio then linked the growth of cocaine distribution with the situation in Venezuela and its alleged support of the Colombian ELN rebels. He asked Macmanus: “It is indisuputable, right, that distribution of cocaine is assisted actively by elements in the Venezuelan government?”
“I agree with your statement,” Macmanus answered. “The border between Venezuela and Colombia is ripe for mischief and illegality.”
Rubio continued to press on Venezuela. “With their assistance to the ELN, migration from Venezuela, and the distribution of Colombian cocaine by Venezuela, Venezuela poses a very significant national security threat to our strongest ally in South America, Colombia.”
“That’s correct, Senator,” replied Mamanus. Venezuela “is the principle problem of today” in the region for the US.
While some American leaders, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have approvingly mentioned the possibility of a military coup in Venezuela, Macmanus stayed clear of that. Venezuela’s needs, he said, are “a return to democracy, a return to a respect for human rights, clear and transparent elections with international observers, and opening a humanitarian corridor for food and medicine.”
Macmanus finished his testimony by expressing support for additional US aid to help Colombia deal with its more than a half-million Venezuelan refugees. He has already had discussions with State Department officials who would be involved, he said.