February 16, 2022

In Op-Ed, Chairman Menendez Announces Major Legislative Initiative to Reinvigorate U.S.-Colombia Relations

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today published an op-ed in the Miami Herald announcing he will introduce new legislation to drastically strengthen the U.S.-Colombia relationship. The senator’s unveiling of the U.S.-Colombia Strategic Alliance Act of 2022 follows his convening of a full Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this afternoon to assess the future of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Colombia.

“As our countries celebrate 200 years of diplomatic relations this year, however, it is long past time for the United States and Colombia to anchor our strategic partnership in today’s realities rather than the ghosts of the past. We must harness and breathe new life into our relationship to unleash the potential our people have to offer,” the Chairman wrote. “I will introduce bipartisan legislation, unprecedented in scale and scope, that sets out a bold new chapter in U.S.-Colombia relations. The U.S.-Colombia Strategic Alliance Act of 2022 will recognize the special relationship our nations have built and formally designate Colombia as a ‘Major Non-NATO Ally’ of the United States. It will be ambitious in establishing a renewed emphasis on human rights, labor rights and security cooperation. It will create new tools that catalyze investments in Colombian businesses as they recover from the pandemic, strengthen environmental cooperation and facilitate new opportunities for women entrepreneurs and members of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities.”

Find the op-ed in full HERE and below.

My bill will make the United States’ strong bond with Colombia even stronger | Opinion

In an era of increased global tensions and protracted crises, the United States’ relationship with Colombia is one of our greatest foreign-policy success stories of the past two decades.

Our countries have built strong and lasting ties rooted in shared interests, values and objectives. Together, we have forged an ironclad partnership that has disrupted massive criminal networks fueling the international drug trade. We’ve built a robust economic relationship worth almost $50 billion. And with collaborative U.S. assistance, Colombia was able to end the world’s longest civil war.

The tapestry of American life and democracy continues to be shaped and enriched by the vast contributions of more than 1.2 million Colombian Americans. Similarly, Colombian democracy thrives today because of the countless sacrifices of the Colombian people and the United States’ unwavering support.

However, as our countries celebrate 200 years of diplomatic relations this year, it is long past time for the United States and Colombia to anchor our strategic partnership in today’s realities rather than the ghosts of the past. We must harness and breathe new life into our relationship to unleash the potential our people have to offer.

Much has been written about the success of Plan Colombia and its indisputable impact in helping the government turn the tide of a brutal conflict against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). But new and persisting challenges, as well as opportunities that continue to arise, demand a fresh diplomatic initiative that demonstrates the dexterity of the U.S.-Colombia partnership at this critical juncture.

In the past two years, Colombian life has been overtaken by the compounding effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, soaring poverty and inequality, and a countrywide social-justice movement that ripped open unhealed war wounds when armed police fired upon civilians last year.

Despite the promise of peace offered by the historic 2016 accord, some 2,500 FARC dissidents have taken advantage of the lack of state presence in rural areas to bolster cocaine production and terrorize communities, renewing open conflict in eastern Colombia. Meanwhile, an influx of nearly 2 million refugees escaping the brutal Maduro regime in neighboring Venezuela reversed the role of an entire generation of Colombians that went from being forced to flee to now hosting those fleeing.

Colombia remains our single most important partner in South America. Our strategic partnership stands as a model in the hemisphere. But history is riddled with premature declarations of victory, and a failure to recognize the tremendous responsibility Colombia shoulders as a bulwark for regional stability could lead to a disaster for the Colombian people and U.S. national interests.

With the world facing an emergent and aggressive China and a revanchist and belligerent Russia, the United States needs to shore up our alliances in the Western Hemisphere to counter influence campaigns rooted in manipulative investments. As was the case with most of our closest partners, former President Trump took a wrecking ball to U.S.-Colombia relations, going as far as insulting the Colombian president by saying his country had “done nothing” to work with the United States — a statement completely untethered from reality.

Still, the Biden administration has a responsibility to reinvigorate this essential partnership. Congress can play a decisive role by laying out a comprehensive roadmap for expanding engagement on issues of inclusive economic growth, anti-corruption, international security, environmental protection, and refugees and migration.

In the coming days, I will introduce bipartisan legislation, unprecedented in scale and scope, that sets out a bold new chapter in U.S.-Colombia relations.

The U.S.-Colombia Strategic Alliance Act of 2022 will recognize the special relationship our nations have built and formally designate Colombia as a “Major Non-NATO Ally” of the United States.

It will be ambitious in establishing a renewed emphasis on human rights, labor rights and security cooperation. It will create new tools that catalyze investments in Colombian businesses as they recover from the pandemic, strengthen environmental cooperation and facilitate new opportunities for women entrepreneurs and members of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities.

As important, the bill will reinforce the United States’ support for a full-throated implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord, which continues to be the best — albeit imperfect — tool to build peace and democratic governance in Colombia.

This year will be a pivotal year for U.S. engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean. In June, when President Biden hosts leaders from across the hemisphere in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas, his administration must use this fresh approach with Colombia to show that the United States can be nimble, strategic and effective in supporting our partners.

Our collective willingness to adapt to Colombia’s evolving needs can serve as a launching pad for a brighter, freer and more prosperous hemisphere in which all our citizens benefit.

Bob Menendez, a Democrat, represents New Jersey in the U.S. Senate. He is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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