Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will head to the United States for his first official visit with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on May 18.
During the head of state’s trip to Washington, according to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, the two leaders will “discuss ways to reinforce the strong ties that the United States and Colombia enjoy.” The main topic is expected to be the Andean nation’s peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that was finalized late last year.
On Friday, Trump formally signed a spending bill that ensures $450 million USD in aid for Colombia, the bulk of which will go toward helping to finance the military, development, and social programs called for under the peace deal.
Discussing the Crisis in Venezuela
The press secretary said that Santos and Trump also plan to “exchange views on a range of bilateral and regional issues,” which will include the ongoing humanitarian, economic, and political crisis occurring in Venezuela. The press secretary specifically mentioned the White House’s concern for “countering democratic backsliding in Venezuela.”
As the oil-rich socialist country continues to face food shortages and massive protests against President Nicolas Maduro, Colombia is continuing to see areas, particularly in the border city of Cucutá, have to confront migrants crossing the border as well as other issues related to having a neighboring nation in such turmoil.
To help formalize legal cross-border migration, officials in Bogotá last month instituted a new policy in which Venezuelans visiting Colombia will be required to carry a migrant card that allows them to enter certain departments closer to the border while prohibiting travel to other central locations in the country.
Hospitals, both in Colombia and Brazil, have also reported financial hardship due to the number of Venezuelans pouring across the border to seek medical care that they cannot find in their home country. According to the Colombian Ministry of Health, at least 2,600 Venezuela patients were cared for by public Colombian hospitals in 2016 and that number has been on pace to double in 2017.
“Putting Venezuela at the top of the region’s foreign policy priorities is key to addressing a problem that is already having an impact outside of Venezuela’s borders,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, recently stated.
The Close Ties Between the U.S. and Colombia
The White House meeting will be a next step in a relationship that has become one of the strongest in the hemisphere. Over the past 20 years, Colombia has become among the closest allies of the United States, with the two countries having collaborated and shared a similar mind across multiple presidential administrations in both Washington and Bogotá on matters including coca eradication, the fight against narcotrafficking, and combating guerrilla factions in the country.
Even prior to the $450 million USD pledged to Colombia this year — an increase of $74 million over 2016 assistance levels — the United States had contributed more than $10 billion USD to the South American country since former President Bill Clinton helped devise the so-called Plan Colombia policy in the late 1990s.
Funding for the policy has enjoyed wide bipartisan support for the most part since its inception, although the erratic and still-developing nature of Trump’s foreign policy in the region, on top of policy disagreements over strategies to fight rising coca production, has raised questions about whether or not the relationship between the two nations may change in the years to come.
Santos’ Other Washington Meetings
While in Washington, Santos will also meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, other Trump administration officials, and U.S. Congress members, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), according to the Presidencia de la República.
The president will join U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R- MO) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) at a dinner on May 17 hosted by the Colombia Peace and Prosperity Task Force of the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based group that promotes Latin American ties with the United States.
The same day as his White House meeting, on May 18, Santos will also participate in the Binational Business Summit of the United States and Colombia, a recently formed initiative supported by both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Business Association of Colombia (ANDI).
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