This week, during a bilateral White House meeting, Colombian President Iván Duque’s productive conversation with President Donald Trump around the need to ensure a stable democratic transition in Venezuela was a heartening sign of closer collaboration. With a reduced aid package for Colombia still on the table, the White House must match rhetoric with concrete action.
In recent weeks, the crisis in Venezuela has inspired a rare and welcome show of bipartisan support. During his State of the Union address in February, President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE recognized Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó’s courage and determination, remarking that in time “Maduro’s grip of tyranny will be smashed and broken.”
But in a move that contradicted that verbal support, the White House one week later released a draft budget featuring drastic cuts to aid for Colombia, a key U.S. security partner and a country that plays an indispensable role in containing the Venezuela crisis.
As Colombia continues to welcome the millions of Venezuelan migrants and refugees fleeing the country, the proposed $36 million cut in aid to Colombia (an 8 percent decrease from last year’s aid package) and the shift of funding away from social and economic programs that are essential for developing rural areas and toward anti-drug trafficking efforts misses the mark.
While addressing the unfolding crisis in Venezuela is a priority with bipartisan support, such objectives are not possible without continuing to strengthen our alliances. Cuts in aid to our ally would generate results in direct contrast with U.S. interests in the region.
With the vacuum created by the deterioration of the rule of law in Venezuela, the concern that drug trafficking and other forms of criminality could spill over into Colombia is one we should all share. But the proliferation of irregular armed groups as well as the growing presence of Chinese and Russian influence in Venezuela pose unique security issues to Colombia that require greater support from Washington, not less.
These were the conclusions of the Atlantic Council’s U.S.-Colombia Task Force report, co-chaired by Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMissouri official asks court to suspend McCloskeys' law licenses GOP hopes spending traps derail Biden agenda A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate MORE (R-Mo.) and Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in Overnight Defense & National Security: War ends, but finger pointing continues MORE (D-Md.). The report lays out a series of recommendations that go beyond military and anti-narcotics enforcement efforts, to focus on development of rural areas to ensure that the 2016 peace accords hold firm and that these areas of the country are reintegrated into the state rather than falling back into the hands of irregular groups.
The history of U.S.-Colombia engagement represents an outstanding success story in the region.
Plan Colombia, a bipartisan initiative launched in 1999, is one of the most successful U.S. foreign policy efforts, with Colombian taxpayers funding 95 percent of the total investment and the United States providing vital political leadership, military and police training, and technology assistance.
Colombia’s vibrant communities are working to encourage investment, modernize farming practices, and build the infrastructure needed to integrate local markets into the broader Colombian economy.
U.S. support is integral to connecting rural communities with the resources and technical expertise that will boost employment. We at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center worked to form the U.S.-Colombia Task Force because we understand that U.S. partnership with Colombia is crucial to the long-term health of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in the region.
The untapped potential of the relationship and the risk of failing to stand with our Colombian partners are too great. Deviating from the course is not an option. As a key U.S. partner in the region, continuing engagement with Colombia is essential to our strategic economic and national security interests. Now is the time to double down on our collective commitment to the U.S.-Colombia relationship.
Jason Marczak is the Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center of the Atlantic Council. He is on Twitter at @jmarczak. Camila Hernández is an Assistant Director at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center of the Atlantic Council.