U.S President Joe Biden hosts Colombia’s Gustavo Petro on Thursday inside the Oval Office. Brazil’s Luis Inácio “Lula” Da Silva welcomed Monday Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. During a week in which two of South America’s most recently elected leftist Presidents are on a diplomatic offensive, the Biden-Petro encounter at the White House will not signal a major shift in U.S – Colombia relations, especially relating to drugs policy and U.S-funding for counter narcotics.
The meeting, however, between a global leader who has relentlessly-backed Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky to the extent that he recently turned-up in Kyiv to witness the anguish and suffering of the Ukrainian people, and a Colombian President who has yet to condemn Putin’s brutal invasion, reveals a growing ideological rift between the U.S and two of its “strongest allies” in the hemisphere.
Foreign Minister Lavrov’s three nation visit of South America cemented Brazil’s “active non-alignment stance,” and apparent neutrality expressed by Lula during a recent state visit to China. According to Lula, in a press conference in Beijing, the United States “needs to stop promoting war and begin talking about peace. The European Union needs to start talking about peace.” These statements just two days before Lula rolled-out the red carpet for Lavrov, replicates Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-U.S., anti-EU sentiment, and shows that Brazil’s international position on Ukraine is pro-China, and pro-Russia, by default or design.
Lula and Petro are in a power struggle to be recognized as international peace brokers. The Colombian President as intermediary for Venezuela’s Nicólas Maduro, and Lula with the non-aligned, sans Ukraine. Petro’s petition that Biden lift sanctions on the Venezuelan government follows his speech during a meeting of the Ambassadors of the Organization of American States (OAS) in which the Colombian President called on the Washington-based entity to welcome back Cuba and Venezuela by rewriting the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
The Charter states that all the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy, and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it. Yet, sadly, for the peoples of Cuba and Venezuela, this reality remains a distant, and unrealistic, objective. Petro claimed, in no uncertain terms, that if Cuba and Venezuela are not fully reintegrated into the inter-American system, the OAS is “worthless.”
Petro’s pro-Venezuela lobby during what is being touted by the White House as “wide-ranging talks” belittles a growing security problem at home after Colombia’s High Peace Commissioner Danilo Rueda confirmed that there are some 16,000 combatants in the country among five – or more – illegal armed groups. If Biden offers no significant sanctions relief to an autocratic regime that commits extensive human rights abuses against the opposition, Petro’s role as the Latin American emissary could end in tatters, similar to Lula’s non-starter “peace deal” for Ukraine.
The first Petro-Biden meeting at the White House is rooted in historically strong ties between Washington and Bogotá, but beyond the protocols and obligatory photograph, the U.S will push the Colombian Government for action with manual eradication of the coca harvest, which since Petro was elected President in August 2022, has all but essentially ground to a halt. The coca harvest for 2023 is expected to increase to 300,000 hectares from an estimated 220,000 last year.
Colombia’s inaction in the war on drugs, combined with a recent declaration by Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva that the U.S’s billion-dollar economic aid packages for Colombia equate to “petty change” sets the tone for tense talks, and one in which Petro is being accused by his own opposition, among them former Ambassador to Washington, Francisco Santos, for being Venezuela’s de-facto “Chancellor”.
Petro’s offensive in the Oval Office to petition Biden for “zero sanctions and more democracy” for Venezuela shows a “clear ideological affinity between Petro, Chávez and Maduro”, claims Santos. Words echoed by U.S Senator Marco Rubio (Rep-FL) who in a video message “regretted the change in politics of Colombia (by Petro) who negotiates and has a relationship with the narco-dictatorship of Maduro.”