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Biden, Latin America and Colombia: Stability and Adjustments in Continental Foreign Relations

The arrival of Joseph Biden to the presidency of the United States requires answering a deep strategic question: What can be the architecture of hemispheric relations?

The global scope

Joseph Biden was the vice president of Barack Obama during his two terms, from 2008 to 2016. Biden contributed significantly to the creation and consolidation of an international relations perspective. His international vision was marked by three macro trends: multilateralism, collective security and negotiation as the preferred methodology for handling of disputes.

In this sense, it is natural that now, as President, the outlines of this trend are preserved and intensified (Biden, 2020a; Burns, 2020). In fact, a good part of the cabinet and important level positions of the Obama administration have returned to occupy the most sensitive positions in decision-making (PBS, January 20, 2021).

In practice, this will mean, on the one hand, that international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations, will become the privileged forum for handling global and regional problems. On the other hand, security problems will not be handled based on unilateralism but under the logic of collective security (multidimensional) and contributory parameters. This will be done in such a way that regional allies and pivot states will assume a particularly active role in the distribution of power. Thereby, giving the same importance to both static issues (weapons, terrorism, transnational crime, territorial presence) and fluid issues (ecology, health care, migration, public diplomacy). Likewise, bilateral or collective bargaining will be the recurring mechanism to settle conflicts and, through trust and reciprocity, seek rapprochement and agreements with opponents.

The inter-American scope

The second will be that of cooperative security to coordinate inter-institutional efforts to face common threats with a notable inclination towards those that are not intentional in nature (disasters, infectious diseases, complex social emergencies, migratory flows and reduction of asymmetries between the communities). Finally, the third scenario will be that of mediation, to reduce regional tension and polarization, seeking commitments aimed at overcoming both internal armed conflicts and hypotheses of conventional confrontation between antagonist States.

In practical terms, the interaction focuses on cooperation for development, stimulation of productive initiatives and the mitigation of conflicts through investment (Colombia, Presidencia, 2020).

The bilateral scope

All of this means that the management of specific Colombian-North American affairs will be carried out under the criteria of the traditional alliance based on shared values, principles and interests. Not surprisingly, the new U.S. president has argued that Colombia is the “cornerstone” of United States policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean (Biden, 2020b).

In fact, the agenda between Washington and Bogotá can be classified as of high thematic and operational complexity, defined in terms of innovation (Leijten, 2020). These issues range from commercial to the most sensitive issues of security and management of transnational threats, plus even if the condition of Colombia as a global partner of the Atlantic Alliance is taken into account (Colombia, Chancellery, 2021).

However, the Biden government will propose new approaches to managing the agenda. The new Biden administration will distance itself from the previous administration’s policies. This new agenda will be identified with the initiatives that Biden himself promoted as vice president during the past decade.

For example, he could insist on resuming the negotiating channel with the regimes of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to try to recover the “lost time”, from 2016 to 2020. The Biden administration will try to advance the democratic culture in exchange for advances in the matter of free democratic company and culture.

However, these manoeuvres will have a direct impact on the Colombian national interest. In other words, the ruling party, the Democratic Center, has asked President Iván Duque to break relations with the Island due to his complacency with the leadership of the National Liberation Army (ELN), which is being sought in extradition by the Colombian justice system.

 

Consequently, Duque will have difficulties reconciling the positions between his own party (especially in the pre-electoral period) and those of the new U.S. government. The U.S. will try to open windows of opportunity by ceasing to see Managua, Caracas and Havana just like a “troika of tyranny,” which former NSA Advisor John Bolton once called these governments.

Furthermore, Biden’s team (in which a Colombian named Juan Sebastián González stands out as National Security Advisor for the Western Hemisphere) could even suggest to Duque that he restart negotiations with the ELN in the Cuban capital, which have remained frozen since August. of 2018.

Finally, it should not be forgotten that during the U.S. presidential campaign that brought Biden to the White House, the Latino vote was – in some way – related to Colombian domestic politics. The fact that the candidate Gustavo Petro boasts of having contributed to the Democratic cause through the close relationships the left has woven with various congressmen. Undoubtedly, Petro and his coalition will try to exploit these ties to the maximum to strengthen their run for the Presidency. This most likely will create additional tensions between Uribismo (a Colombian political movement, based on the thought of former President Álvaro Uribe) and the White House, who lead social-democratic trends in the United States.

Conclusions

The Biden administration will base its foreign policy on multilateralism, cooperative security, and negotiation and mediation. Undoubtedly, it will be of particular importance for the reconstruction of relations for the IX Summit of the Americas to take place in the United States in the middle of this year. In this institutional climate, Washington will promote adjustments in hemispheric relations, including governments such as Duque and Bolsonaro, which were very close to Donald Trump’s initiatives in the area.

Although Colombia and the United States will preserve their traditional alliance, the agenda could be affected by the aforementioned adjustments, mainly in relations with Cuba and Venezuela, countries with which Biden could try new dialogical experiments. Likewise, the new President may be interested in reinvigorating the negotiations between the National Government and the ELN in Havana, following the same trend that motivated the dialogues between Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2012, an issue that could lead to certain disagreements between the Palace of Nariño and the White House.

Finally, the 2022 Colombian presidential campaign could be influenced in a certain way by the increasingly strong links between the Colombian opposition. The political party led by Gustavo Petro, and Democratic congressmen who lead the party’s social democratic movement, could create a situation that could generate relative disagreements between the two governments.

References

  1. Biden J, 2020a. The power of America’s example: The Biden plan for leading the democratic world to meet the challenges of the 21st century. https://joebiden.com/americanleadership/
  2. Biden J, 2020b. Colombia is the keystone of U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/commentary/fl-op-com-biden-colombia-policy-20201007-v4lt7v3twfeeticarypixsvqmm-story.html?outputType=amp

  1. Burns W, 2020. The United States Needs a New Foreign Policy.  The global order is crumbling, domestic renewal is urgent, and America must reinvent its role in the world.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/07/united-states-needs-new-foreign-policy/614110/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=share

Note: Burns has been nominated by Biden as director of the CIA.

  1. Colombia, Presidency, 2020. Colombia and the US launch the ‘Colombia grows’ initiative to combat crime and, at the same time, bring investment, development and works to rural areas and vulnerable communities.

https://idm.presidencia.gov.co/prensa/colombia-y-eeuu-lanzan-la-iniciativa-colombia-crece-para-combatir-el-delito-y-al-mismo-tiempo-llevar-inversion-200817

  1. Colombia, Chancellery, 2021. Profile of relations with the United States of America.

https://www.cancilleria.gov.co/estados-unidos-america

  1. Leijten J, 2020. Exploring the future of innovation diplomacy.  European Journal of Futures Research, 5, 20 (2017).

https://eujournalfuturesresearch.springeropen.com/articles/10.1007/s40309-017-0122-8

  1. OEA (2021) Transfer of the presidency of the Summits of the Americas process.

http://summit-americas.org/presidenciaIX.html

  1. PBS, 20 January 2021. Meet Joe Biden’s cabinet picks. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/meet-joe-bidens-cabinet-picks

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The ideas contained in this analysis are the sole responsibility of the author, without necessarily reflecting the thoughts of the CEEEP or the Peruvian Army.

Image: Creative Commons