The president’s messages in favor of the Colombian right confirm the influence of the conservative wing of the Republican Party rooted in the southern state
It has long been clear that the triangulation of relations between the United States, Colombia and the Venezuelan opposition crosses Florida. The governments of Donald Trump and Iván Duque have found a harmony both in their “diplomatic siege” against Nicolás Maduro and in their support for the opposition leader Juan Guaidó, recognized as president in charge by Washington and Bogotá. Signs abound. In Cúcuta, the main Colombian city on the shared border of more than 2,200 kilometers, they still remember the visit to the Simón Bolívar International Bridge by Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Díaz-Balart, two Republicans with influence on the plans of the Trump Administration, both from Florida and of Cuban descent, on the eve of Guaidó’s failed operation to bring food and medicine into Venezuela on February 23, 2019.
Florida – a key territory in the presidential elections for being among the so-called pendular states – in addition to being the epicenter of anti-Castroism, it is home to the largest community of Venezuelan exiles in the United States and, according to various estimates, more than one million Colombian-Americans, of which some 150,000 are registered to vote. The Hispanic vote seems decisive. It is precisely in Miami where the Trump administration has increased the volume of its hard line the most to remove Maduro from power. It was there that the former national security adviser, John Bolton, outlined a new “axis of evil” – like George W. Bush’s – at the end of 2018 when he spoke of the “troika of tyranny”, made up of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Trump himself has long linked what is happening in socialist Venezuela with the new breed of Democratic leaders, more heeled to the left, such as Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Karen Bass.
In the White House, the policy towards Latin America during the Trump administration has been drawn by members of the more conservative wings of the Republican Party and with important ties in the region that generally end in Miami. Trump’s first advisor for Latin America was Juan Cruz, a CIA veteran who headed the agency’s Bogotá station. With Cruz, Trump undertook to tighten relations with Cuba and Venezuela, using economic sanctions as the main tool and counting on Colombia as the site to catapult his vision on Latin America. “We have put sanctions on everything in Venezuela, except oxygen and the sun. If we found a way to do it, we would do it too, ”Cruz said last September at a forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. The former CIA agent took over in 2018 Mauricio Claver-Carone, a former member of the Cuban anti-Castro lobby in Washington, who has never hidden his rejection of Latin American policies close to socialism.
With Claver-Carone at the forefront of policy for Latin America, the hardening towards leftist governments in the region went on the offensive. The lawyer, originally from Miami and close to Senator Marco Rubio, took a turn with no return to further toughen the measures against Havana and Caracas and brought to the White House the language of attack on the core of Castroism and Chavismo. His nomination as president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) during the summer was seen as an affront by the United States towards the region that historically used to have a Latin American in the direction of the entity. However, the first accolade to occupy the position came from Colombia, where President Duque justified his support as an act of reciprocity with Washington. Claver-Carone has no longer served in the White House for a couple of weeks, but the trace of his opposition to the Latin American left has been recorded in Trump’s latest messages on Colombia.
His tweets over the weekend in support of former President Álvaro Uribe, after the justice granted him conditional freedom after two months in house arrest, included allusions to “Castro-Chavism” and point in the same direction. That term was also used in Colombia by Uribismo, the right-wing current that supports the former president, to attack the peace agreement of the Government of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018) with the extinct FARC guerrilla.
Trump, who called Uribe a “hero”, has also repeated his attacks against the “socialist” Gustavo Petro, the candidate of the left. antiestablishment who played the second round of the 2018 presidential elections against Duque. Petro, who was a member of the M-19 guerrilla group, demobilized three decades ago, lost with almost 42% of the vote to Duque’s 54%, but among the more than 100,000 Colombians who voted in the United States the preference for Duque, the Uribe’s political godson, he approached 85%.
In the race for the White House, Uribismo has taken sides for Trump’s re-election. Several journalistic reports have pointed out how Colombian political leaders, members of the Democratic Center, are increasingly involved in the campaign of fear of “socialism” that Trump has deployed against Joe Biden in Florida, often peppered with misinformation and conspiracy theories. Among them, the controversial senator María Fernanda Cabal, representative of the extreme right sectors in the government party founded by the former president. Although Uribe’s high popularity as president (2002-2010) has cracked in Colombia –53% with an unfavorable image compared to 35% in the most recent Gallup poll–, in Florida he still maintains sympathy.
In an illustrative example, Miami-Dade County approved this month to name one of its streets Alvaro Uribe Way. That tribute was celebrated by Juan David Velez, representative in Congress of the nearly five million Colombians abroad. The congressman from the Democratic Center has dual citizenship, divides his time between Bogotá and Miami, and has emphasized his party’s rejection of the peace agreement sealed at the end of 2016. Vélez studied at Florida International University, an institution with various communicating vessels with the right in Colombia. The initiative to award Uribe was brought to the City Council by Commissioner Javier Souto, a Cuban politician who has been in exile in Miami since 1960, who worked for the CIA and participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Bogotá increasingly exhibits its status as a privileged partner of the Trump administration – despite occasional frictions over high levels of drug crops. As Uribe had done with George W. Bush, Duque has played for a foreign policy aligned with Washington, an ally in the fight against drugs and counterinsurgency since Plan Colombia was launched in 2000. That close alliance less than a month of elections in which the polls show Biden a favorite puts at risk the bipartisan consensus that Colombian diplomacy has cultivated so much on issues that affect the country – and that are usually defined in the budget in Congress -, as various analysts have warned .
The importance of the Colombian community has not gone unnoticed by the Democratic campaign. Biden himself wrote a letter addressed to Colombians, and to the Colombian-American community, which he published both in The Sun Sentinel, a South Florida newspaper, as in Time from Bogota. In the text, he refers to Colombia as “the cornerstone” of Washington’s foreign policy in Latin America, and makes a historical account in which he recalls the attack on the Palace of Justice in 1985 – perpetrated by the M-19 guerrillas in the that Petro militated – as “the injustice of killing judges in cold blood and with impunity.” He also highlights that he has traveled frequently to the country, that he has worked with every Colombian leader in the last 20 years, and that he ensured bipartisan support for Plan Colombia. And he points out that as Barack Obama’s vice president they helped to eradicate coca crops, but he does not mention the determined support of that Administration for the peace agreement with the defunct FARC guerrilla, of which Uribe was the strongest opponent.