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Biden’s new Latin America juggling act: How to handle Colombia’s new president

Privately, the administration sees some alternatives amid the challenges. Officials on the National Security Council and State Department, who for months have been getting ready for the potential of Colombia electing its first leftist chief, take into account local weather change and implementation of the peace accord between the Colombian authorities and the insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as two areas the place Biden and Petro might discover some frequent floor, in accordance to two individuals in common contact with the administration.

Ultimately, the course of the connection will rely on Petro, stated Dan Restrepo, a high adviser on Latin America below Barack Obama. “Unlike some, you have neither Biden nor his team prejudging or anticipating where this is going to go. They’re going to engage,” he stated. “More engagement rather than less makes sense in times of political change.”

During his name to Petro, Biden additionally mentioned working collectively on points resembling local weather change, well being safety and implementation of the 2016 peace accord, in accordance to the White House readout. Petro has promised to absolutely implement the historic peace cope with the FARC. Biden has lengthy been supportive of the deal, relationship again to the Obama administration.

Petro described his name with Biden as “very friendly.”

“On the road to a more intense and normal diplomatic relationship I have now held a very friendly conversation with President Biden of the U.S.,” Petro wrote on Twitter. “In his words, a ‘more equitable’ relationship for the benefit of both nations.”

But inside days of Petro’s win, the home political landmine was already changing into seen. In Florida, a long-time swing state and residential to an estimated 250,000 Colombian American voters, the response to Petro’s election was largely damaging. There, leaders on each side of the aisle cautioned that they need to see Biden and U.S. officers maintain a detailed eye on the new leftist chief earlier than permitting for a full embrace.

“The bilateral relationship has been so strong and I think it’s important to keep that up. But in order to do that we need to make sure the Petro administration doesn’t impede on rights, including freedom of the press and all other rights in the Colombian constitution,” stated Annette Taddeo, a Democratic state senator in Florida who’s operating for Congress.

Taddeo, who’s Colombian American, urged Biden officers to proceed with “a lot of caution” and “watch out for any movement that is concerning.”

Biden and Democrats underperformed amongst Hispanic voters in Florida within the 2020 election. Former President Donald Trump made important beneficial properties amongst Hispanics there — not simply Republican-leaning Cuban Americans however Colombian Americans and different rising Latino populations.

The state’s large Hispanic inhabitants and long-standing place as a key swing state has lengthy given it a giant voice in Latin American coverage, however the state’s shift additional proper has left some nationwide Democrats seeing Florida as now not important to profitable the White House. Meanwhile, administration officers have lengthy emphasised they won’t form their international coverage based mostly on what performs greatest politically in South Florida.

The Biden administration’s fast strikes to interact with Petro advised that the U.S. is critical about conserving the South American nation shut as a substitute of isolating the leftist chief earlier than he’s even begun, a number of former U.S. officers and consultants on the area stated.

“This is a real effort from the White House to get off on the right foot — and we’ll see if that’s a sustainable approach,” stated Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the assume tank Council of the Americas. “Now, does he focus on Colombia’s very deep-seated economic problems or does he try to make a name for himself as the new spokesman of the international left? We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Still, clear factors of tensions have already surfaced between the 2 nations.

Petro is a former member of the nineteenth of April motion, or M-19 guerrilla insurgent group, that demobilized a long time in the past. Since then, he has served as a legislator, senator and mayor of Bogotá. His agenda is outlined by a need to develop social applications and deal with rural growth to tackle deep social and racial inequality in Colombia, which has solely worsened with the pandemic and financial turmoil within the area lately.

He has been vocal in calling the U.S.-led struggle on medicine an entire failure. He has additionally talked about his need to lower oil exports and renegotiate the phrases of the U.S.-Colombia free commerce settlement, which there’s unlikely to be an urge for food for in Washington.

Petro has already moved rapidly on a marketing campaign promise to normalize relations between Colombia and Nicolás Maduro’s authorities in Venezuela — a transfer that runs counter to the U.S. and dozens of different nations which have acknowledged opposition chief Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s official chief. A day after talking to Biden, Petro stated he’d mentioned with Maduro reopening the border between the 2 nations.

“There are clearly elements of Petro’s agenda that are in conflict with U.S. interests in Latin America. That’s undeniable. Still, I think the areas of agreement are also substantial,” stated Benjamin Gedan, a former South America director on the National Security Council below Obama and present deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Latin American program. “I don’t want to exaggerate how chummy the relationship can be but I think it’s possible.”

Gedan defined that there’s a number of methods to painting Petro given his background, previous statements and present actuality — one in all a former guerilla who has expressed sympathies with Maduro’s regime and questioned the established order relationship with the U.S. The different is of a frontrunner who acknowledges his coalition doesn’t have a majority in Congress when he enters workplace on Aug. 7 and faces a really fragile financial state.

“There are signs he’s not coming into office ready to burn every bridge,” Gedan stated. He famous Petro’s transient conversations with Biden, in addition to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, following his victory “have given a very different picture of someone who is at least flirting with a pragmatic approach to foreign policy and to advancing his agenda domestically.”

“There’s a lot of raw material for any way someone wants to portray him,” Gedan added. “But it’s actually a great mystery how he will behave in office.”

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