In his first significant foreign policy decision, new Colombian President Iván Duque has withdrawn Colombia from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), a continent-wide organization that has been sputtering with no leader or direction since the most powerful countries on the continent suspended their membership earlier this year.
Photo: Carlos Holmes, foreign affairs minister of Colombia, announces the nation’s decision to withdraw from UNASUR. (Credit: Presidencia de la República)
The move came as part of a larger governmental announcement about Colombia’s international relations focus that included the intention to “implement a new border policy,” which new Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo called a “fundamental part of the country’s foreign policy.”
In making the decision, Duque became the first head of state to fully withdraw his nation from the South American union, which was founded in 2008 and entered into force as a treaty in 2011 to better align cross-border collaboration in key areas such as trade, defense, energy, healthcare, education, and combatting the drug trade.
In April, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Paraguay all suspended their membership in an organization that faced ongoing disagreements over both leadership structure and how to handle relations with Venezuela.
At the time, an unnamed Peruvian diplomat told Reuters that the differences between UNASUR “members’ political and economic views are so great it can no longer operate.”
Holmes said Colombia will continue to push for democratic solutions to the ongoing crisis in Venezuela that will allow the nation’s citizens to choose their own future in “free, transparent processes with full guarantees that they government should have.”
Rather than continue with UNASUR, Holmes said that Colombia will focus on participating “proactively — not passively or reactively — in multilateral scenarios.”
This will come to pass, he said, through an increased push to elevate relations with countries in Asia, Africa, and Oceana, as well as strengthen deep ties with the United States and European Union.
Holmes added that Colombia will prepose a “relaunch” of the Organization of American States (OAS), the hemisphere-wide body that includes members from Canada to Argentina and had been criticized by certain left-leaning leaders in South America in the lead up to the creation of UNASUR for having too much influence from the United States.
Colombia will also work to strengthen to Pacific Alliance, which in recent years has grown into one of the strongest trade blocs in Latin America. Colombia is joined by Mexico, Chile, and Peru in the alliance, with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore recently becoming formal observer states in an expansion plan that will broaden its global reach.
Other foreign relations priorities under Duque, said Holmes, will include an effort to negotiate an end to the double taxation burden with more countries, combat corruption more systematically on the international level, improve support services in Colombian embassies abroad, and promote creative industries across borders.
To emphasize the final point, Colombia plans to organize the First World Congress of Orange Economy, a term now popularly used to describe a collection of creative fields that includes everything from software and video game development to filmmaking, fashion, and graphic design.