U.S. President Donald Trump will attend the 8th Summit of the Americas conference in Peru next month and then visit Colombia after the event, the White House announced earlier this month.
Trump is scheduled to sit down for meetings with his peers in the two Andean countries, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
“This travel demonstrates the president’s resolve to deepen our historical ties with our partners in the region and to strengthen our joint commitment to improve security and prosperity for the people of the Americas,” said the White House in a statement.
The Summit of the Americas is an recurring event dating back to 1994 where heads of state throughout the hemisphere, with the exception of Cuba, gather to discuss the top economic, trade, security, and other key issues of the hemisphere. This year’s event will be held from April 13–14 in Lima and garnered heightened interest after Peru formally disinvited Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro (who has threatened to attend anyway).
Trump has been condemned widely throughout Latin America since taking office, with a January Gallup poll showing that just 16% of people in the region approve of the U.S. head of state. In Mexico, where his plan to build a border wall has been overwhelmingly met with contempt, that figure sat at 7%, the lowest among the 20 nations surveyed in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Colombians have a relatively rosier view of Trump, with 20% saying they approve in January. By comparison, 68% of the same survey group in Colombia said they approve of former President Barack Obama. (Venezuela, with 37% approval, and the Dominican Republic, at 34%, had the two highest figures.)
In terms of bilateral relations, Trump taking office has added uncertainty and tension. For the better part of two decades, Colombia has arguably been the closest Latin America ally of the United States, which has provided well over $10 billion in military and development aid to the South American country since the late-1990s under the “Plan Colombia” program that has consistently received bipartisan support from both the White House and Congress.
But Trump has stepped up the “War on Drugs” rhetoric emanating from Washington and implored Colombia to curb the production of coca, the critical ingredient used to make cocaine, which has skyrocketed in recent years.
The divergence in approach from the Obama administration, which publicly praised the security progress the nation has made and offered both rhetorical and financial support for “post-conflict” development objectives during the peace process with the FARC, became most pronounced last September when the White House threatened to decertify Colombia from its list of partner nations in the war on drugs.
In the annual presidential statement on the world’s “major drug” producing and transit countries, Trump said that both Bolivia and Venezuela had “failed demonstrably” over the past year to “adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.”
He added that Colombia would not be subject to the same potential aid reductions that these two countries would face, but that Trump had “seriously considered designating Colombia as a country that has failed demonstrably.”
In the end, Trump said that the long-term ally was “not designated because the Colombian National Police and Armed Forces are close law enforcement and security partners of the United States in the Western Hemisphere, they are improving interdiction efforts, and have restarted some eradication that they had significantly curtailed beginning in 2013.”
But the statement was a severe warning to the typically friendly nations and has generated tension for a government in Bogotá that has come to expect foreign assistance as it contemplates the implementation of a slate of post-conflict development programs it has committed to under the peace agreement signed with FARC in late 2016.
Correction: This article initially misidentified the Summit of the Americas as an annual event. It generally takes place every three to four years.