President Donald Trump’s pick to be Secretary of State has refused to pledge support for Colombia’s peace process, saying he first needs to “review the details” before he could “determine the extent” of United States backing.
Rex Tillerson’s hedge on support for Colombia came in a written response to questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Tillerson was asked by the committee, “If confirmed, do you pledge to continue U.S. support for Colombia through Peace Colombia to help Colombia consolidate its historic peace agreement?”
This is his answer, in full, with the final sentence clearly withholding support now for the peace progress:
“I agree that Plan Colombia has made a dramatic difference and can be considered a foreign policy success for both the United States and for Colombia. Colombia is, I believe, one of our closest allies in the hemisphere, and an important trading partner. If confirmed, I would make every effort to continue our close cooperation with the Colombian government, holding them to their commitments to rein in drug production and trafficking. I would also seek to review the details of Colombia’s recent peace agreement, and determine the extent to which the United States should continue to support it.”
Tillerson’s written response to the Foreign Relations committee has not been formally released, but a copy was published on the web site of Latin America Goes Global, a U.S. research organization.
Tillerson is the former CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the ten largest corporations in the world. His appointment as Secretary of State has been controversial, among other things for his close ties to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his oil industry background.
Nevertheless, he is widely expected to be confirmed by the Senate this week. Two influential Republican former skeptics, Senator John McCain (Arizona) and Senator Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), both now say they will vote for his confirmation.
Colombia has long been the strongest US ally in Latin America, having received more than $10 billion in aid, mostly military, since 2000. The US policy of strong support for Colombia’s military has had widespread bi-partisan support in Washington, with only a few dissenters who criticized the military campaign’s abuse of innocent people.
The Obama administration strongly backed the Havana peace negotiations with the FARC that sought to end 52 years of war, sending a special envoy to observe and promising $450 million in aid to help implement the peace agreement.
The US support for Colombia was a rare example of bi-partisanship in an otherwise fractured period in US government. But Trump has made no secret of his willingness to break with anything from the past, including existing alliances and commitments abroad.
His inauguration speech last week made clear what he has been saying for months: that all foreign policy will be judged by its direct benefits to the US. In Trump’s quest for budget savings, the $450 million for Colombia may be an attractive target for reduction.
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, expected to be called to trial for mass human rights violations, has taken his opposition to the treaty to Washington, where he has been lobbying against the deal.
Colombia’s government meanwhile has been inching away from it’s long-time partner. Rather than visiting Trumps’inauguration, President Juan Manuel Santos visited a school where he praised Obama.
Colombia’s Defense Minister, partly in charge of the already delicate peace process in the country, said he expected “drastic change in the rules of the game.”