Article / November 12, 2020

How Will the US Election Affect Colombia?

The US election, as expected, has resulted in absolute chaos. With Biden’s apparent victory contested by the Trump campaign and litigation now fully underway, there are still doubts about who will actually enter the White House in January. 

The world is watching closely, and Colombia is no exception. Washington’s closest ally in Latin America, the country generally conforms to US policy. Thankfully, the fundamental nature of US-Colombian relations is not likely to change no matter who assumes the presidency. 

Colombia’s relationship with the US, while strongly criticized by some, has indisputably led to a more peaceful and prosperous Colombia. In part thanks to US support, Colombia has brought its drug war to an end, increased foreign trade, and built a secure, democratic state.

Attitudes in Colombia

In Colombia, as elsewhere, the US election has been highly divisive. Right-leaning Colombian senators have faced criticism for openly supporting the Trump campaign in Florida, where Trump made significant inroads into the Latino community, including Cubans, Venezuelans, and Colombians. 

Venezuela’s neighbor to the west, Colombia has seen firsthand the destruction inflicted on the country by the Chavez and Maduro regimes. Trump has long positioned himself as Colombia’s most important ally against Socialism and Communism, accusing his opponent of being weak on Castro-Chavismo

A country that has received millions of Venezuelan refugees fleeing the Maduro regime, Colombians are keenly aware of the dangers of Socialism. Nonetheless, regardless of what a President Biden’s domestic policy would be, it is unlikely that his foreign policy would break from the neoliberal foundations that have defined US-Colombia relations. 

The US in Colombia

The United States has a long history of supporting the Colombian government, and played a major role in the resolution of the country’s armed conflict in 2016. With support from international players like the United Nations and the Red Cross, Colombia ushered in an era of peace and prosperity that has transformed the country. 

An important part of US-Colombia relations has been the Plan Colombia, a Clinton-era initiative to combat drugs and left-wing insurgency in the country. Expanded under George W. Bush, the diplomatic initiative provided support to Colombia’s military and various other types of aid. 

The Plan was largely a success. Drug trafficking decreased 73% between 2001 and 2012, paving the way for the historic 2017 peace agreement which formally disbanded the FARC and other groups. When it was brought to the Senate floor, Joe Biden argued strongly for the Plan. But Plan Colombia has also been strongly criticized.

The drug trade in Colombia has declined significantly, in part thanks to aerial fumigation.

Criticism of Plan Colombia

Not everyone in Colombia is excited about the ascendance to President of such a driving force behind Plan Colombia. The effort drew serious criticism from US and Colombian lawmakers, who described it as overly militaristic. Indeed, over 75% of US aid under the Plan was dedicated to military spending.

The Plan Colombia also introduced a controversial practice that has been a hot topic during the Trump administration: the aerial eradication of coca plants by the Colombian military. Beginning in 1994, the use of aerial herbicides to fight the drug trade has drawn fire for being indiscriminately destructive. 

Nonetheless, Colombian president Ivan Duque has already requested that Biden continue the plan should he enter the White House. This would include reactivating aerial herbicide programs in the southern region of Putumayo, in the isolated rainforests where much of the country’s coca cultivation takes place. 

The aerial destruction of coca plants has also been encouraged by Trump, who earlier this year expressed support for spraying programs. “You have to resume spraying,” said the president at a joint press conference in Washington. Clearly, both candidates seem to support the spraying programs. 

Colombian soldiers destroy coca plants.

US-Colombia Trade 

Another commonality between the Trump and a potential Biden administration is trade policy. Signed in 2012, the US-Colombia trade promotion agreement has removed numerous barriers to trade, eliminating tariffs and opening up Colombia to US goods and services, especially financial services. 

The agreement has paved the way for a spike in trade between the US and Colombia, which reached a total value of $40.5 billion in 2019. In terms of agriculture, US exports to Colombia are predominantly grains, while imports come in the form of coffee, nursery plants such as flowers, and bananas/plantains. 

The bilateral trade agreements between Colombia and the US will, in all probability, remain in place regardless of who ultimately claims the White House. In fact, both candidates have committed publicly to expanding trade with Colombia, and the country’s burgeoning agriculture sector is likely to play a major role.

Long-Term Stability

The tumultuous 2020 election cycle will likely be determined by a long, painful slog through the courts, possibly leading to a final decision by SCOTUS. But Colombia, as America’s most pivotal ally in South America, is not likely to be affected by this volatility, at least not in terms of trade policy. 

Those keeping a close eye on Colombia can rest assured that no matter the outcome of the 2020 US election, US-Colombia relations will remain stable, long-term, and mutually beneficial. 

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