Transcript: After two centuries, the US-Colombia relationship is entering a ‘new chapter’

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Event transcript


President Iván Duque,
President of the Republic of Colombia

US Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO)

US Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)


Jason Marczak
Director, Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, Atlantic Council

Adrienne Arsht
Executive Vice-Chair, Atlantic Council; Founder, Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center Advisory Council


Marie Arana
Author, Journalist, and Literary Director, Library of Congress

JASON MARCZAK: Welcome to this episode of Atlantic Council Front Page, featuring President of Colombia Iván Duque and the co-chairs of our US-Colombia Task Force, Senators Ben Cardin and Roy Blunt. It’s an honor to have you with us today. I’m Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. And I’d like to thank IHS Towers, the exclusive sponsor of today’s program. IHS Towers is one of the largest independent providers of telecommunications infrastructure globally. Founded in Nigeria, IHS Towers is committed to emerging markets, providing services across the full tower value chain in nine countries, including Colombia.

Now it’s my pleasure to introduce a true visionary, Adrienne Arsht, the founder of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center and of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, and executive vice-chair of the Atlantic Council. Adrienne.

ADRIENNE ARSHT: Thank you, Jason. And good afternoon, everyone. Particularly good afternoon, President Duque. Nearly a year ago you joined us for our first Atlantic Council Front Page event. It’s really an honor and quite special we’re welcoming you back again. That must be some record already in our Front Page events. And seven years ago, Fred Kempe, president of the Atlantic Council, embraced my vision to launch a center that would challenge the world’s perception of Latin America by positioning the region as a core partner in the community. Colombia’s rise and success over the years and its role as one of the United States’ most important global allies certainly speak to that vision.

President Duque, since becoming president three years ago you and your administration have demonstrated remarkable leadership, welcomingly nearly two million Venezuelans, and made a commendable commitment to decrease carbon emissions, among other important priorities. You have impressed the world with your steadfast commitment to entrepreneurship, innovation, legality, and equality. We all look forward to continuing to work together with you to strengthen economic and diplomatic ties between Colombia and the United States.

On a personal note, you know how important Colombia is to me. Two years ago I was honored to receive the Order of San Carlos in recognition of my commitment to the prosperity of your country. That commitment is strong today as we look for new opportunities to deepen the bilateral relationship as Colombia confronts COVID-19 and the continuing destabilizing effects of Maduro’s reign in Venezuela.

And now I would also like to thank and welcome Senator Ben Cardin and Senator Roy Blunt and thank them for their longstanding commitment to strengthening the strategic partnership, and for their leadership as co-chairs of the US-Colombia Task Force. I look forward to seeing the continued work of the bipartisan US-Colombia Task Force in its goal to deepen and broaden [US-Colombia] ties. This is so pivotal as President Biden begins to advance the new strategic priorities of his administration in this hemisphere.

And now onto the program. Following President Duque’s remarks my dear friend, Marie Arana, a former journalist for The Washington Post, author literary director at the Library of Congress, will moderate from Washington a conversation with President Duque and Senators Cardin and Blunt.

Mr. President, the floor is yours.

PRESIDENT IVÁN DUQUE: Well, thank you so much, Adrienne, for your kind words. And it’s always a pleasure to be with you at the Atlantic Council. Thank you for all your support to Colombia. I also want to express my gratitude to Jason once again. And it is always a great honor to share the floor with Senator Blunt and Senator Cardin, who have been great friends of Colombia, who have supported our country in many, many ways.

And it’s also a great honor for me to be here with Marie Arana. I still remember some years ago when I was interviewing her after she published her biography on Simon Bolivar. So it’s a great honor for me to be this afternoon.

What I’ll try to do, Adrienne, in my introduction is to make the case for the transformation that we’re building in Colombia. Obviously, we’re facing all the adversities that are derived from COVID-19 while we continue to embrace the values and the vision of our national development plan.

But I should say that this year, 2021, has four very important purposes for Colombia. On the one hand, massive vaccination. We are supposed to reach almost four percent of our population being vaccinated maybe early next week, and we’re going to get to three million people vaccinated by April the 17th. And our goal is to vaccinate 35 million people by the end of the year so that we can reach 70 percent of the Colombian population and have some sort of a herd immunity in our country.

The second great objective that we have is to have a safe economic recovery. Last year our GDP was badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and our GDP shrank by 6.8 percent. But we already have not only the plan, the vision, and the investment, and the cycles of investment that will lead us to grow close [to] or above 5 percent this year. And that involves many projects in the rural areas. It involves also the acceleration of the Peace with Legality policy that we have. It involves also water and sewage, four-generation highways, and also the opening for bids for the five-generation highways that are going to be bi-centenary roads of Colombia.

And we also consider that the most important thing that we have to advance, as we do with massive vaccination and with the safe recovery, is a sustainable social transformation. So we’re about to present before Congress a bill that would allow us not only to protect the poorest of the poor by managing all the social programs that we created in the midst of the pandemic so that they will become permanent programs and we will reach almost twenty million Colombians by providing benefits for something close to five million families so that we are not going to have setbacks on all the advancements that we made reducing poverty. But we also want to stabilize our national finances for the short and long term.

So those are elements that are in place, but it’s very important to say that as of today we are seeing great transformations; one, the energy transition in Colombia, where we’re going to pass from 0.2 percent of non-conventional renewables to 14 percent of our energy matrix by the end of next year. We’re making a big advancement in high tech, and especially we’re now training 100,000 programmers so that Colombia will become the number one destination for technology companies that want to sell in Latin America. And we’re also at this moment making a very important transformation in the health and education system.

Those elements are the ones that are leading us to have the recovered growth this year, to be very close to [recovering] pre-pandemic unemployment levels, and to keep on reducing unemployment. But more importantly, we want to move very fast in the policy of the Peace with Legality, where now we have already finished more than one thousand projects in the areas that historically have been badly affected by violence.

All this transformation that has taken place in Colombia has had the support of the United States. And Senator Blunt and Senator Cardin, I should recognize always that the support that we have gotten from the United States has been bipartisan and has been bicameral. And I think Colombia represents maybe one of the most successful foreign-policy programs that has been implemented with the United States because it has been focused not only on security but using trade to promote investment and generate jobs. And today we got the accessibility of green peppers from Colombia to the United States that is going to generate a good amount of work and jobs in the rural areas of our nation. And we believe that now, with President Biden, that bipartisan and bicameral support is going to be strengthened, and one of the issues where we want to strengthen the bilateral relationship is also connected to attending the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela that has generated the biggest migration crisis in the world today.

We decided to embrace this challenge with fraternity and with a humanitarian sentiment, and we have granted temporary protection status to 1.8 million migrants in Colombia that will have their migration card with all the biometric technology so that we have all the right information to grant them rights but at the same time to be able to connect with them and understand what their needs are so that they can also benefit from programs such as the massive vaccination program.

So we’re working with the United States [on] this very important matter, and we also congratulate the United States for granting TPS to almost 400,000 Venezuelan citizens [on] US soil. But more importantly, next year—and I will finish with this, and this is something I know Marie Arana will love—next year we’ll be celebrating two hundred years of diplomatic relations between the United States and Colombia.

It was President Monroe, who was better known as the last Founding Father by many historians, who recognized Colombia and it was the first former Spanish colony to be recognized by the United States two hundred years ago. And it was young Quincy Adams, who, at the time, was the secretary of state. And the man who made this happen was a diplomat that was living in the United States of America. His name was Dr. Manuel de Trujillo y Torres. He was known at the time as the Colombian Franklin, and he passed away a few days after the recognition took place.

Two hundred years where we have shared values and common objectives, and we consider that all the work that has been done with the Atlantic Council and especially with the support of Senators Blunt and Cardin, we want to turn all the exercise that has been made in the last three years into a bilateral foreign policy plan that would cover almost a decade, a new joint action plan that we want to execute with the Biden administration.

This could be a new chapter in the bilateral relations and will pass from the idea of Plan Colombia to have a permanent bilateral program that is based on security, democratic values, trade, but also investment, something that is very important. And it’s how we jointly are going to fight the crisis from climate change.

So I consider that at this moment in time there is a good momentum to strengthen the bilateral relationship between the United States and Colombia, keeping the great value of being a focus that comes from a bipartisan, bicameral, state-of-the-art policy.

With that, I will leave that as my introduction to have this dialogue and, once again, Jason, Adrian, and Senator Blunt and Cardin, it’s a great honor for me to be back at the Council and to work hand in hand with you so that this bilateral relationship keeps on strengthening. Thank you so much.

MARIE ARANA: Thank you, President Duque. It’s a pleasure to see you again, and thank you for those informative remarks and for joining us in this discussion. And I do, indeed, appreciate, having written about the history, that very strong relationship, diplomatic relationship, that has existed for two hundred years between Colombia and the United States.

Well, as President Duque mentioned, Colombia is one of the United States’ strongest and most important allies in the world. If a vibrant US foreign policy toward Colombia exists today, it’s because of bipartisan consensus and successes, and we owe those successes to strong leadership by the administrations of both countries as well as to an unwavering and mutual commitment between Washington and Bogotá.

So, Senators Blunt and Cardin, as co-chairs of the Atlantic Council’s US- Colombia Task Force and throughout your careers, you have advocated for a strong relationship between the United States and Colombia. As a US citizen of Latin American origin myself, I thank you for your commitment to that goal.

Why, in your opinions, Senators, is it more important than ever to continue strengthening this bilateral partnership with Colombia? And where would you say is our greatest potential to fortify that engagement? Senator Blunt.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Well, Maria, thank you for being the moderator today. And thanks to the Atlantic Council, Jason’s fine work there. And maybe most of all, thanks to Adrienne Arsht for coming up with a concept that the Atlantic connects not only the northern hemisphere or the western hemisphere but also the southern part. And we are neighbors. And treating this neighborhood in the way that the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center’s effort has allowed us to do, really important.

Two hundred years is a long time. Two hundred years of virtual democracy in both of our countries. And Americans appreciate as they get more familiar with Colombia that long commitment to democracy, the long relationship we’ve had in our countries. I know that on more than one occasion, President Biden, then as vice president, referred to Colombia as the keystone of Latin America. And it’s fairly evident from parts of the map, but it’s also evident from looking [at] the example that Colombia sets. President Duque’s example of the way that Venezuelan refugees have been welcomed, saying two million of them could legally be in the country really shows that you can have the leadership and democracy and understanding what goes on in your neighboring country, in this case, is really something important.

And President Duque’s done that, you know, from Plan Colombia, where as a member of the leadership in the House I was working to be sure that every year we extended Plan Colombia, to Senator Cardin, my really close friend. And I say that in the Senate, but I came to the Senate not too long after Senator Cardin is. I looked for a mentor on the other side, and I thought who would be better than the guy who I already have such great confidence in. And we have been able to find things—so many things to work together on. And looking at how we transition from Plan Colombia to Peace Colombia.

And I think, frankly, we saw some of the problems in the Peace Colombia transition in our report, but we’re still very hopeful that it would work out in the best way—though there were some questions that obviously came up…. And now looking again with President Duque’s leadership in Colombia of how we bring together some combination of what we were doing in Plan Colombia with what we hope to do in Peace Colombia. And glad to be with all of you today. But, Maria, thanks for moderating. And, again, I’m particularly pleased to be part of this effort with Senator Cardin.

MARIE ARANA: Thanks very much, Senator Blunt.

Senator Cardin, can you answer the same question?

SENATOR BENJAMIN CARDIN: First of all, thank you very much. President Duque it’s wonderful to be with you. Thank you for your [extraordinary] leadership in Colombia. To my friends at the Atlantic Council, thanks for making this possible. We thank you all for putting a real spotlight on this.

You asked a question: Why is this relationship important and where do we go from here, and can we make it stronger? And I think President Duque put his finger on it when he said that this is one of the most successful foreign policy partnership initiatives that any two countries can point to around the world. When we look at what we’ve been able to accomplish together over the past twenty years, it’s with great pride. And we say that recognizing that we see backsliding on democratic institutions in far too many countries in our own hemisphere. But we see Colombia moving forward in strengthening its democratic institutions. It’s in the exact direction we want to see in our own hemisphere.

So over the last twenty years, we’ve seen the homicide rate in Colombia drop by 60 percent, the lowest rate now since—in forty-five years. The GDP has been tripled. The foreign direct investment is tenfold as to what it was twenty years ago—the highest in Latin America. The poverty rate cut [by] less than half. And the list goes on and on. And we point to it with pride and success. This partnership has worked in the best interests of Colombia and the United States. We have a partner on so many different issues, as the president has already indicated, we may now go to the next level of our partnership.

And the reason why we have to strengthen that partnership is that we still have challenges. Venezuela is a critical challenge for our hemisphere. How do we deal with solving that conflict? What do we do with the migration issues? We have drug trafficking problems that we have to work together. We’ve got to strengthen our protections on human rights activists. We know we have those challenges. We still have challenges, and we have to build the partnership to deal with those challenges in the same way we have in our partnership that’s now been twenty years.

I’m proud of this. Important to the United States. Important to Colombia. But we need to make sure we strengthen these efforts.

MARIE ARANA: Thanks very much, Senator Cardin.

Now let’s turn to the situation with COVID-19, the vaccination and recovery period. Colombia was the first country in the Americas to receive vaccines from the UN-backed COVAX mechanism, a program meant to ensure the equitable distribution of immunization worldwide. It has also received vaccines from China. So far the country has administered over one million doses to its people, and President Duque referred to that in his introductory remarks.

President Duque, you hope to administer 200,000 doses a day in April. What can the United States do to help Colombia in this vaccine administration? And more generally, how can the US best partner with Colombia in its economic recovery, including advancing the technological capacities that are critical for Colombia’s long-term competitiveness?

PRESIDENT IVÁN DUQUE: Well, thank you so much, Marie, for your question. And let me begin by saying that where we stand right now with COVID-19.

So, [there have been] very important achievements during the last year. We got to double the amount of ICUs in Colombia. When the pandemic began, we had 5,300 ICUs in Colombia. Today, we have more than 11,400. And that has been a major achievement. Even though when the pandemic began we had one of the highest levels of ICUs per 100,000 inhabitants in the region, today we are the leaders. We have twenty-one. And we are above most of the countries in Latin America in terms of ICUs per 100,000 inhabitants.

When it comes to deaths per million people and cases per million people, we look today in a much better shape than other countries from the region and other countries from the world, even though with countries that have high incomes per capita. We have now a 95 percent recovery rate of the people that have been affected by the virus. We have 2.1 percent active cases and we have 2.5 percent lethality rate from the people that have been affected by the virus.

And it’s important that we have tried to manage not only the tension on the health-care system, by expanding social programs we have been able to grant non-conditional cash transfers to almost 3.4 million homes in Colombia. We have also provided what we call a giveback tax from VAT. The families that are on the poorest of the poor, we have given back what they have paid on VAT tax, and that has become a very important program. We have granted free university education for students that are in need and we’re covering almost 700,000 students. And we have also provided loan guarantees where we guarantee 90 percent of the loans for many companies, and we have been able to subsidize the payroll to almost 3.4 million workers to protect the employments in Colombia during this year.

And we began the negotiations with a dual strategy six months ago where we joined COVAX, and we bought twenty million doses for ten million people with COVAX because it had a limit of no more than ten percent of the population—but we also made the bilateral agreements with pharmaceutical companies. We did it with Pfizer. We did it with Johnson & Johnson. We did it with Moderna. We did it with AstraZeneca. And we also did it with Sinovac from China.

As of today, we have 1.3 million doses that have been applied in Colombia. And we expect to have a growth that will likely reach more than 150,000 per day maybe in the next month, when we hope by the 17th of April to be around three million. And we want to keep that level so that we keep on advancing rapidly.

So what can we do? And let me make some reflections on this. I think it has been very important that the US has gone back to the World Health Organization. I think that was a must. And I think it has been a wise move from President Biden’s administration to join COVAX, because the importance of COVAX is that we’re all paying for the vaccines. We’re a middle-income country and the US is a high-income country. What we buy from middle- and high-income countries represents that it’s going to ensure the supply of vaccine to the poorest countries around the world. So it’s a very important, equitable system.

Now, I have to say this in a blunt way. What we’re seeing internationally is that the distribution of vaccines has been pretty much unequal. We have countries that have bought vaccines, but they haven’t been able to receive not even one. And obviously, that has to change. And something that I consider has to [be rethought] is that we have seen countries that have bought four or five or six times the size of their population in vaccines. And that certainly disrupts the market.

So it’s very important that this is fixed to ensure that we can have a better supply. And definitely I consider that since the US has become a leader in the production of vaccines, I think it’s also a very important instrument of soft diplomacy that can be very well used with other countries around the world, not only to facilitate those who can buy, to be bought, but also in the cases of countries that have not only received vaccines, to be able to do it in a prompt way.

And I am very optimistic that maybe by the second semester, what we’re going to have is an oversupply and not what we have today. But my consideration and my thought is that it might be too late for many countries, because definitely there are people who are taking advantage politically to create social unrest due to the circumstances of the lack of provision of vaccines. And we don’t want that to happen. And we want to see countries that are effective in their institutional stability because of this.

So I definitely think that the US can certainly become a leader in the hemisphere to help the countries that have not received vaccines to do it in a prompt way.

MARIE ARANA: Thank you very much, President Duque.

A very important question for sure. Senators Cardin and Blunt, I’d love for you to comment on this too, and if you would do so in brief comments, please.

Senator Cardin, you’ve done so much and have [made] so many accomplishments in general. You have been a great advocate for human rights. And why is it important to continue deepening US-Colombia cooperation in the fight against COVID-19? How can the anti-epidemic efforts undertaken for COVID-19 actually now help advance US interests generally in the region?

SENATOR BENJAMIN CARDIN: I think President Duque made a very strong case of why we have to be engaged internationally, not just in Colombia but throughout the world. This is a global pandemic, and we’re not going to be safe in our own country unless all countries are safe.

I do want to acknowledge that Senator Roy Blunt has been one of our leaders in the United States Senate on health-care issues here in the United States and around the world. We recognize that access to health care is critically important as far as quality-of-life and humanitarian issues, but also security issues. [If people] can’t get access to health care, it’s going to be everything very vulnerable.

So the fair distribution of the vaccine is critical in the United States. It’s critical in Colombia and it’s critical globally. And that means we all need to be engaged. The United States needs to be [a leader] to make sure there’s fair supply to countries around the world, that affordability is not an issue, that communities that have a hard time getting access to health care get that access. And we need to take direction in each individual country to responsible leaders.

So in Colombia, we follow the recommendations of President Duque as to how we can help make sure his people are safe and getting the vaccine.

MARIE ARANA: Thank you, Senator Cardin.

Senator Blunt, you were one of the main champions of the US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, fighting tirelessly for the approval of the trade agreement a decade ago, in 2011. This agreement, of course, is instrumental in US and Colombia business and has led to increased cross-border communications and activity.

How will the agreement contribute actually to the COVID-19 recovery? And why is it more important than ever to advocate its full implementation?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Well, I’m an advocate of continued greater cooperation, greater investment, between our countries. I was a major proponent of the trade agreement with Colombia when we did it.

I’d say, first of all, the trade agreement had the Colombian economy in a better shape going into this COVID-19 and border crisis than it would have been in otherwise. It’s hard to imagine a country that’s been more challenged by two bigger things happening at the same time than Colombia. And President Duque’s leadership [looking] at both how to be sure that people have access to the vaccine [and also] the unbelievable cost to Colombia of people coming into the country fleeing the repressive government and devastated economy in Venezuela. But we were in better shape with our Colombian economy that I’m proud to say I’m glad to be an advocate for and part of…

I think we still need to work on being sure we don’t have obstacles. Some of those trade obstacles came up as we put tariffs on steel and other things around the world. I think we need to treat our great strategic partner, Colombia, [with] the highest level of equity as the great partner they are when those things came up. And in terms of the vaccine, it is destabilizing when people feel like somehow they don’t have fair access to the vaccine. And we need to do our best to be sure that we’re assisting our friends in Colombia with vaccines that are available. Thirty-five million vaccines, I think, is what President Duque said was the goal by the end of the year. And that will give a significant level of immunity but not the full immunity that we need with even more vaccines available.

What we don’t want, frankly—or, in my view—is we don’t want other countries, who don’t have the friendly intentions that we have, coming in and providing vaccines to Colombia. One, some of these countries never quite provide the vaccines that the initial discussion says they’re going to provide. And two, it needlessly puts a foot in the door of a country that’s dedicated to democracy, of a country that’s really working to have the rule of law, to help grow their economy. And we know that the health care crisis created an open door for other countries that aren’t nearly as interested in that as Colombia and the United States are.

MARIE ARANA: Thanks very much, Senator.

We have actually very little time left, but I don’t want to close this program without talking a little bit about Venezuela. President Duque, earlier this month you signed a decree to grant temporary protective status for ten years to all Venezuelans in Colombia. This is a humanitarian gesture on a massive scale. Colombia hosts the largest Venezuelan diaspora of over 1.7 million people, or 32 percent of the 5.4 million migrants and refugees from Venezuela in the world. The temporary protective status, the TPS, is expected to benefit two million people, granting them access to formal employment and to essential services including health care and COVID-19 vaccinations.

Mr. President, renewed and expanded international support to your country will be essential for the successful implementation of this newly announced temporary protective status. How can the international community best support Colombia’s efforts to integrate Venezuelan migrants and refugees? What will be the medium- to long-term benefits of the TPS?

PRESIDENT IVÁN DUQUE: Well, thank you, Marie. I wanted to make a comment based on the question that you asked previously but I’m going to connect it with this. And you were asking what can the United States do for Latin America and for Colombia for the recovery. And something that I consider very strategic as of this moment is the concept of nearshoring. And let me put it in this way. It is crucial, and we understand for sure, that the United States is also facing its own challenges at home. And I know it’s very important, the policy of reshoring some of the investments that [were] deployed in other parts of the world.

That, obviously we know, and we also consider that that’s part of the US internal policy. However, if there is a percentage of that investment that cannot be reshored but nearshored in the Americas, that nearshoring is going to trigger investment, is going to trigger employment, and is going to take the advantage of being close to market to generate opportunities in Latin America.

And obviously, I don’t want to get into US internal and domestic policies, but I made this comment publicly. We all are going to struggle with the migration crisis. What we are suffering right now is not going to be the last. And what we’re seeing at the southern border of the United States is not going to be the last. But if there is a strategic nearshoring of those investments in Latin America, it can be a way to contain massive migration to the United States.

And I say this because many people want to cross the border and multiply their income by the exchange rate and send back money to their houses. Well, the same thing, we are living with that in Colombia, because the minimum salary in Venezuela is ten bucks while in Colombia it’s three hundred bucks. So if you just cross the border, you’re going to multiply by the exchange rate and be able to send money to buy food at home.

At this moment in time, we are facing the worst migration crisis in the world. More than six million people have left Venezuela with hunger… [and] lacking health services. And we decided in Colombia—and this is not something that came just to my mind recently. I proposed it when I was a candidate. And while I was also inspired by the figure of the TPS that the US has historically used. And I said to the Colombian people that we had to think [about] that, and we created our migration policy that we launched by the end of 2018. And we have been able to mature in such a way the idea of having a migration policy that today we are going to grant the TPS, and that TPS is going to allow people that already had short-term permits to have a long-term permit of ten years, and they’re going to have their TPS card with biometric information. But those who are informal have to register, and we’re going to have the registry having the name, who they are, where they live, what the conditions are they’re suffering. And also, we’re going to be able to focus resources for them.

But this also takes me to put the concept before your eyes that there was a report that came out a few weeks ago in the United States demonstrating that in the Syrian migration crisis, the whole international community—the donor community—had provided more than three thousand dollars per migrant in the Syrian crisis, and [$1,600] when it was related to the South Sudan crisis. But when it comes to the Venezuelan crisis, what the world has been able to mobilize doesn’t even get to three hundred dollars per migrant. And as of today, the United States has been the major donor for us to attend this circumstance. Obviously, Spain has supported us, Canada has supported us, but we definitely need to connect what has been pledged to the disbursements that are needed.

And we consider that if we get to nearshore investments, that if we get to trigger the right conditions, we’re going to be able to manage this crisis successfully. And actually, we have made very interesting economic analysis that at the end of the day, looking at this type of migration that is not short term, we have to find through the regularization the process where they can also contribute to the Colombian economy.

But also, looking at the long term—and I’ll finish with this—the bond that has been created between Colombian and Venezuelan citizens, once there is light at the end of the tunnel in Venezuela and there is a rebirth of democracy, those who will go back will never forget the bonds that they had created with Colombia. And this can become the engine of social and economic transformation in the years to come for both nations.

MARIE ARANA: Those are very great points. Thank you, President Duque.

And Senators Blunt and Cardin, following on this same question, would you please comment—and briefly, too, because we are wrapping up with this—that although international assistance is critical to the general well-being of the region, the current response to the Venezuela crisis remains insufficient, I think as President Duque has just said, with those 2020 figures that have host countries receiving $265 in funding for each Venezuelan migrant and refugee, but over ten times less than the $3,150 that President Duque mentioned that the Syrian migrant refugees received? What additional steps should be taken by the US and the international community to help Colombia resolve this terrible crisis of migration?

Senator Blunt?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: I think we can do more, as—I think the exact number from the United States in 2020 was $197 million. That’s about a hundred of that $255 that you mentioned that all the countries in the world sent. We can do more. We should do more. The force multiplier, the strategic partnership, the long-term stabilizing impact of Colombia are incredibly valuable to us. And I really like President Duque’s idea of nearshoring. There’s going to be a lot of focus on the supply chain, a lot of jobs I think will come back to the United States.

But another viable option can be his near-shoring option, so that you’ve got a stronger economy there as well as us reaching out in ways that we uniquely should be willing to do with our friend in Colombia, who is constantly helping us with its neighbors, talking about things in the drug and trafficking and other areas, and how they lead on this is the way we would lead on this. But it’s more effective for them to do it because they’re neighbors in the exact neighborhood.

And so we’re grateful. We should understand why people are fleeing Venezuela. And a lack of stability in Colombia or any other country they’re fleeing to is not to our advantage. And I hope we can and will do more.

SENATOR BENJAMIN CARDIN: Certainly, I agree with Senator Blunt. Because I agree [with] what he said. And first of all, President Duque, thank you so much for responding to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela by allowing the borders to accept the refugees. And thank you for giving them status, which was so important. It’s a real model for the global community. And you point out, the long-term benefits will be in regard to the relationship between your two countries. But I think the people of Venezuela see that peace and prosperity in Colombia needs to be duplicated in Venezuela. So thank you very much for presenting that model.

And I agree with Senator Blunt that we need to do more, and we need the leadership in the international community to provide more international recognition for the responsibilities to deal with the crisis caused by Venezuela. That’s what happened in Syria. We could have been even a greater help internationally. But certainly, we’re not doing what we need to in the countries that are impacted by the migrants from Venezuela.

MARIE ARANA: Thanks very much, Senator Cardin.

And that wraps it up for our conversation. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you, gentlemen. I will go back now to Jason.

JASON MARCZAK: Well, thank you very much, President Duque, Senator Cardin, Senator Blunt, for your important message during today’s conversation. Marie, thank you for the moderation.

In the midst of an incredibly challenging global moment, your insight and actions as well have again reinforced all that we’ve achieved, and also the enormous future potential of what the US and Colombia can achieve together. President Duque, we heed your call on the importance of this moment to further advance a joint bipartisan action plan. And thank you, Senators Cardin and Blunt, for your continued leadership and partnership. We’re looking forward to another very productive year with our US-Colombia Task Force members focused on strengthening the bilateral relationship, especially in the midst of COVID-19 recovery, continued peace implementation, and Colombia’s important role as a regional leader.

Thank you all for joining us for this episode of AC Front Page.

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Image: Colombia's President Ivan Duque speaks during an interview with Reuters in Bogota, Colombia, March 12, 2021. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/File Photo