James Mattis, the U.S. secretary of defense, will meet with the administration of new Colombian President Iván Duque this week in Bogotá.
The visit will be a part of the secretary’s larger trip to South America, which began today with a first stop in Brazil. Mattis will continue on to meet with officials in Argentina and Chile before making a final layover in Colombia, which has been the United States’ closest ally on the continent for the past two decades.
Photo: U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis speaking last year at the NATO headquarters in Brussels. (Credit: Department of Defense / U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)
As noted in a U.S. Department of Defense statement, the White House, under President Donald Trump, has dubbed 2018 as the “Year of the Americas.”
“The secretary’s trip underscores the department’s strong defense ties with Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia,” stated the defense department. It added that “these relationships are critical to a collaborative, prosperous and secure Western Hemisphere.”
Despite the rhetoric, the Trump administration has spent much of its time in office antagonizing and adding tensions to its relations with various Latin American nations as well as Canada.
The near-quarter-century-old North American Free Trade Agreement remains in limbo, Trump continues to threaten building a wall on the Mexican border, migrants seeking asylum from Central America continue facing “zero tolerance” detention in addition to the widespread outrage of the now-discontinued family separation process, and the formerly thawed relations with Cuba have generally reverted to the status quo of the previous century.
In South America, Trump has castigated Colombia for failing to halt the rise of coca production — even threatening to decertify the Andean nation as partner in the “war on drugs” — and shocked leaders across the region by suggesting that the U.S. would consider military intervention in Venezuela.
In his public comments during the campaign, Duque seems keenly aware of the more-tenuous nature of bilateral relations between the two countries. He has pledged to take a more hardline approach to eradicating coca fields through aerial fumigation, something his predecessor former President Juan Manuel Santos halted while citing health concerns potentially caused by the herbicide.
In line with his campaign pledges, Duque also said in his inauguration speech that he would move to make “corrections” to the government’s peace accord with the leftist guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
While Trump himself has seldom mentioned the peace process in public comments, White House officials and certain members of the U.S. Congress, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, have expressed skepticism that the deal was in the best interest of Colombians.