This week Juan González, National Security Adviser for the Western Hemisphere to President Joe Biden, participated in a great summit organized by the Colombian-American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham Colombia), to celebrate the bicentennial of bilateral relations between the two countries.
In an exclusive interview with this newspaper, González spoke about the 200 years, the designation of Colombia as an Extra NATO Ally, the wave of nationals migrating to the United States, the future of the fight against drug trafficking and the upcoming presidential elections that they are coming Incidentally, he denies rumors about a possible retirement from his current position to be appointed as the new US ambassador in Bogotá.
When we talk about President Joe Biden’s vision for Latin America and the Caribbean, Colombia symbolizes all the best of that vision
This week there was a great event organized by AmCham in which you participated to celebrate 200 years of relations between the two countries. And many more are coming. Why have they wanted to give so much importance to this bicentennial
It is a celebration led by the Colombian Government and we are more than willing to highlight everything we have achieved together over the years. When we talk about President Joe Biden’s vision for Latin America and the Caribbean, Colombia symbolizes all the best of that vision. We cooperate with Colombia in economic areas through the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), closely in regional, global issues, in the area of security we have no better ally. And, by the way, we are talking about one of the most vibrant democracies in the hemisphere. The success of Colombia is something fundamental for us.
(Also: the US defines the start date of the trial against the former president of Honduras).
On Thursday, President Biden made the formal announcement of his intention to declare Colombia an Extra-NATO Ally of the US (something he anticipated during President Duque’s visit last month). What is missing for it to materialize and how does that change the relationship between the two countries?
That is moving through bureaucratic channels and only paperwork is missing. It must be ready before the presidential election (in Colombia). Colombia has been filling that role and more for a long time and, as an ally, represents NATO’s values. Colombia is a natural ally and Biden never doubted that he deserved that designation to highlight the depth of this relationship. Nor can we forget Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and attacks against civilians. That designation shows that we are united against this unilateral intervention and the use of violence against Ukraine’s sovereignty.
One of the issues that emerged during the AmCham event was precisely how Colombia can take advantage of this global crisis to strengthen trade relations with the United States, in view of the pressures on production chains and the dependence on countries such as China or Russia. How viable do you see it?
The pandemic and the economic impact of the Russian invasion highlight the decline of certain tools to respond to the dislocations of free trade agreements and the persistence of inequities in rural areas. With countries like Colombia, we must go beyond FTAs. And on issues like supply chains, that’s key. The companies have already started to do something. In this, the governments do not have a magic wand to move the chains, but they do create the necessary trade environment to offer. In my speech I made a call so that between now and the Summit of the Americas we have a dialogue with the private sector so that they shed light on what are the regulatory steps that we must take together., the legal frameworks, and how we can work to create that environment to facilitate this movement of the chains. For economic reasons, but also for reasons of resilience and national security. This is not just a matter of gross domestic product. Economic prosperity must have a social element, to reduce inequality, create opportunities, invest in education, promote gender equity, facilitate the energy transition. Issues that have affected Colombia and the region for a long time, and we must attack now.
(You can read: Shooting in Washington: four injured and a suspect on the run).
Economic prosperity must have a social element, to reduce inequality, create opportunities, invest in education, promote gender equity, facilitate the energy transition
Are we talking about renegotiating the FTA?
This administration does not make it a priority to renegotiate or establish new agreements, but to use them as a basis to build much closer areas of economic cooperation. The treaties are the foundation and their geopolitical intention has always been to align values and economic interests, but at the same time expand the level of prosperity. We have to do more to strengthen those agreements. And that’s where we are. Cooperating in areas of education, research, in harmonization of regulatory sectors to maximize their impact.
Since the beginning of the year there has been a record immigration of Colombians to the US, particularly on its southern border. What reading do you give to this phenomenon? Given how explosive the immigration issue is, is the US? Does the US believe that this could tarnish the good moment in bilateral relations?
I don’t think it will have a negative impact because in many ways Colombia has been an example for the entire hemisphere in migratory management and President Duque should be recognized for that, since they were difficult decisions. What one is are factors that encourage migration, among them a deterioration of the security situation caused by the dissidents of the Farc and other criminal groups that has caused a new internal displacement in the country, more than 80,000 people in the last months. , and these are people who migrate to the US Obviously, the economic impact, caused by covid, is something that should be highlighted. But the initiative proposed by Secretary Anthony Blinken recently in Panama and looking at the Summit of the Americas is based on the idea that it must be recognized that the response to the migration challenge goes beyond migration policy: it must be recognized that it is necessary to do much more to expand the economic agendas that help stabilize countries like Colombia. We have a vested interest in Colombia prospering. In the 1990s, many Colombians emigrated to Venezuela and stayed because there was prosperity. Now Venezuelans are migrating to Colombia thanks to the crisis that Maduro’s mismanagement has caused. Traditionally these populations tend to stay, But if there is no prosperity in Colombia, then those communities leave, including the Colombians themselves. So we must take the economic and social response very much into account because we have to help countries so that opportunities exist in them and the need to migrate is curbed.
The State Department certified this week that Colombia has been complying with the strategy that was set to eradicate up to 50 percent of illegal crops and production before 2023. But the reality is that the numbers have continued to grow and it seems impossible that In a year and a half, we achieved that goal. Should we change focus when measuring results?
We recognize that the issue of drug trafficking is a shared responsibility because 90 percent or more of the coca reaches the United States thanks to the demand that exists here and that is why we have been investing billions of dollars in the problem, trying to consumption as a public health issue. And we work closely with Colombia to prevent criminals from having spaces. We have a current challenge and that is that the security forces have had to refocus during the pandemic in the context of the fight against drug trafficking. But we are in continuous dialogue with Colombia and if strategies need to be modified to have more impact, we are going to modify them. We are not here to measure, evaluate or punish a country like Colombia, which has paid for the fight against drug trafficking in its own flesh and we never doubt its efforts.
The challenges of Colombia, Latin America or the US itself have no ideology (…) we are focused on an affirmative agenda for Colombians regardless of where they are on the political spectrum”
The bicentennial is just the day the country holds presidential elections. And on the card there are two very different visions of the country, one from the left and the other from the right. Do you think the US will be able to maintain this kind of special relationship with whoever wins?
Of course. For the US, democratic self-determination is fundamental. We will seek to work closely with whomever Colombians choose in pursuit of a vision that responds to the interests of both countries. I must emphasize that the challenges facing Colombia, Latin America or the United States itself have no ideology. They are issues of economic opportunity, inequality, access to education, business, and that is why we are focused on proposing an agenda affirmative for Colombians no matter where they are on the political spectrum. We have been there for Colombia and we will be there in the future.
Finally, there is a strong rumor in Washington that you are leaving the National Security Council and would be nominated as the new US ambassador to Colombia. That’s true?
I am very committed to my current position and will remain in it until President Biden wants me to. I am sure that the President will also nominate an excellent person to be the new ambassador to his country.
SERGIO GOMEZ MASERI
Correspondent of THE TIME
On Twitter: @ sergom68
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