The United States is considering support for Colombia that is dealing with hundreds of thousands of migrants who have fled Venezuela, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday.
In a joint press conference following a meeting Tuesday in Bogota, Tillerson and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos talked up their agreements on the importance of cocaine eradication in Colombia and regime change in Venezuela, key issues for the US, while providing no details on these and other critical topics.
The only item of news was Tillerson’s promise to “analyze the possibilities” of shifting to Colombia some US humanitarian aid originally intended for Venezuela. The possible funds—an unspecified amount—would be used to help Colombia deal with its several hundred thousand Venezuelan refugees.
The remarks by the two included virtually no references to the implementation of the peace agreement with the FARC and no mention at all of the ongoing wave of assassinations of rural community leaders.
Tillerson did say the US would support a major Colombian goal: entrance into the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), an elite group of the world’s major capitalist economies.
Regarding cocaine, Tillerson said he was “extremely encouraged” by progress in Colombia’s coca-eradication program. “We will continue to work with Colombia to support these efforts where we can be of help,” he said.
Tillerson acknowledged the US role as the world’s largest consumer of cocaine, but stressed the importance of Colombia meeting numerical goals for coca eradication. “We need to see the metrics going in the right way,” he said. “That’s all President [Donald] Trump wants as well.”
For his part, Santos emphasized numbers in summarizing Colombia’s progress and goals for this year. He said 54,000 hectares of coca (about 150,000 acres) were eradicated last year and that “by the end of this we hope to reach 115,000 hectares.”
Tillerson tried to soften the impact of Trump’s harsh criticisms of the anti-coca efforts, including his recently renewed threat to cut US aid.
In televised comments last week, after being told that cocaine was primarily coming from Colombia and Peru, trafficked through Mexico and Central America, Trump said: “I won’t mention names right now … but I look at these countries, I look at the numbers we send them and we send them massive aid, and they are pouring drugs into our country and they are laughing at us…So I‘m not a believer in that, I want to stop the aid.”
Tillerson said he did not think Trump was referring to Colombia, while Santos said that “Colombia is not laughing at the US. On the contrary, we are working together.”
Regarding Venezuela, Santos joined Tillerson in strong criticism of the government of Nicolas Maduro, whom he called a “dictator.” “Maduro will never accept free and transparent elections, because he knows he would lose,” Santos said.
Santos repeated his pledge to not recognize the results of Venezuelan elections set for April.
In advance of his trip to Colombia and five other Latin American countries, Tillerson had startled many by saying that perhaps the Venezuelan military would take steps to oust Maduro. Santos didn’t refer to that comment, but made it clear he agreed with the US goal of replacing Maduro.
Despite the strong statements of agreement by the two, Santos did suggest that their private conversation did include some major differences of opinion. Their discussion, Santos noted, was “frank and open,” a diplomatic way of saying there were important areas of disagreement.
Among other things, Santos has been very critical of the US-led “war on drugs” and has pushed back against US efforts to return to aerial spraying of carcinogenic poisons to destroy coca fields.