The right wing of the US Senate is mounting a campaign against the confirmation of Joseph Macmanus as the new Ambassador to Colombia.
The latest opposition to Macmanus came from Republican Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, an influential senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will vote on whether or not to confirm Macmanus.
Macmanus, a 30-year career diplomat who has served both Republican and Democratic presidents, was nominated by President Donald Trump to succeed Kevin Whitaker, another career diplomat, as Washington’s man in Bogota.
“It is deeply concerning that Mr. Macmanus was somehow selected to lead our only NATO partner in Latin America,” Rubio told the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news site.
Colombia has never been a member of NATO, but it has long been the US’ strongest military ally in Latin America.
Earlier, Republican Senators Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah) also expressed skepticism that Macmanus would faithfully implement Trump’s foreign policies.
This is a critical moment in US-Colombian relations, as the Trump administration has criticized Colombia’s efforts to sustain the peace treaty with the FARC. At the center of disagreements is a conflict over how to reduce coca production in Colombia.
Coca is the raw material for cocaine, and coca acreage has reached record highs ever since Colombia ended the controversial aerial eradication program the US had pushed it into. Colombia halted the program after a World Health Organization said the chemical agent being used, glyphosate (the main ingredient in the weed killer Roundup), could be carcinogenic.
Farmers in Colombia complained the aerial spraying destroyed all crops, not just coca.
Pressure from the US to forcibly eradicate coca fields by hand has to killings of farmers by Colombian security forces and tensions with the United Nations.
The US has still not taken the FARC off its list of terrorist organizations, despite the former rebel group’s United Nations-supervised disarmament and dissolution. The European Union, by contrast, has removed FARC from its terrorist list.
Lee said he is “extremely disappointed” in the Macmanus nomination.
“At a time when we should be cleaning up the State Department and realigning our foreign-policy priorities to reflect those of the current administration, an Obama-era diplomat is not the right person to head our embassy in Colombia, a critical US ally in the region,” Lee told the Free Beacon.
The Obama administration was more supportive of Colombia’s peace efforts than the Trump administration has been. In Obama’s final budget, he pushed through a big increase in US financial support for the peace process in Colombia.
Trump, by contrast, has tried to slash US aid and even threatened to decertify Colombia as a cooperative partner in international efforts to curb drug trafficking, a move that caused considerable anxiety in Bogota.
Rubio said he is also concerned because of Macmanus’ work for former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“As a former adviser to Secretary Clinton, he played a significant role in the spread of misinformation following the Benghazi attacks, and I have serious concerns over his ability to represent our interests and adequately influence U.S. foreign policy in such an important capacity,” he said.
In Macmanus’ long career at the State Department, he served as Executive Assistant to two former Secretaries of State, Republican Condoleezza Rice and Democrat Clinton. He has also represented the US in international nuclear weapons diplomacy and served at embassies in Mexico, El Salvador, Poland and Belgium. He speaks Spanish.
The Washington Free Beacon has been in the news recently itself. In 2015 it hired Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on a number of Presidential candidates. Fusion GPS in turn hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who produced a controversial report alleging links between Trump and Russia’s political and economic leaders.
When Steele’s report was leaked to the press with the implication that it had been produced for pro-Clinton forces in the election, the Free Beacon hid the fact that it had been the original client for the Fusion GPS report.