The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela said Monday that relations between the U.S. and Colombia will center more on social and economic development than on security in coming years, but that this is not due to the election of incoming President Juan Manuel Santos.
“There will be changes in the relationship between the U.S. and Colombia,” Valenzuela said, speaking at a Washington forum held by U.S. think tank NDN, but stressed that “if [unsuccessful Green Party presidential candidate] Mockus had won, the relationship with Colombia would not have been any different.”
According to Valenzuela the changes are related to shifting conditions in the region. The U.S. official said that Colombia will continue to receive support from the North American nation, but with a greater focus on economic and social issues.
Valenzuela added that Hillary Clinton had visited Colombia between the first and second rounds of the presidential election on purpose so as not to be accused of taking sides.
“We are prepared to work with Colombia. It is a very important country, and we are collaborating closely on multiple subjects,” Valenzuela affirmed.
When asked about the U.S.’s pending ratification of its free trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia, Valenzuela said that U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration continues to be committed to moving forward with the pact, but did not want to commit to a specific date when this would occur.
The secretary noted that working with Colombia was a bipartisan issue highly important to both Republicans and Democrats, but ratification of the FTA depends on the approval of the U.S. Congress, who are still working out “environmental, labor, and union-related issues” of agreements with Colombia and Panama.
The U.S.-Colombia FTA was originally signed in 2006 by the George W. Bush administration, but has since been put on hold when the Democrats gained a congressional majority in 2007. The Democrats have applied pressure against the Colombian trade deal on the grounds of labor and human rights concerns, and because they think an FTA poses a threat to American jobs.
Since 2000, the U.S. has contributed around $7 billion in military and other aid to Colombia.