WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks at today’s full Committee hearing: “Reinvigorating U.S. - Colombia Relations.” Today’s hearing follows the Senator’s publication of an opinion piece in the Miami Herald unveiling the U.S.-Colombia Strategic Alliance Act of 2022, new legislation to drastically strengthen the U.S.-Colombia relationship.
“We have long championed the United States’ relationship with Colombia as our most important in South America and one of our greatest foreign policy successes globally. … That said, I believe that the complexity of the world today demands that we embrace the opportunity to address different challenges—challenges like social and economic inequality, environmental deterioration, human rights, and the creeping influences of extra-regional actors like Russia and China,” Chairman Menendez said. “It is long past time that we modernize our relationship with Colombia to focus on the realities of the present rather than the ghosts of the past. And, to elevate our partnership to reflect Colombia’s growing leadership on the world stage. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels.”
Testifying before the Committee were: the Honorable Brian A. Nichols, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, U.S. Department of State; the Honorable Todd D. Robinson, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State; the Honorable Marcela Escobari, Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, U.S. Agency for International Development; Mr. Dan Restrepo, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; and Professor Celina B. Realuyo, Adjunct Professor, The George Washington University School of International Affairs.
Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below.
“This hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will come to order. Our hearing today is on reinvigorating U.S.-Colombia relations.
As the world braces for Russia’s assault against the Ukrainian people—in defiance of a peaceful world order and in rejection of democratic values—it is imperative that we renew efforts to strengthen our alliances and closest partnerships, particularly those close to home.
We have long championed the United States’ relationship with Colombia as our most important in South America and one of our greatest foreign policy successes globally.
Indeed, together, we have disrupted massive criminal networks and built an economic relationship worth nearly $50 billion. Thanks to the countless sacrifices of the Colombian people, and our decades-long partnership, Colombia was able to end the world’s longest civil war. Today, Colombia exports its expertise to help other nations combat drug trafficking and terrorism.
Massive security improvements opened Colombia’s doors to the world, while also enabling Colombians to discover their own homeland. In a welcome first, we even have a Disney movie about Colombia—enabling a generational shift in global perceptions about the country. Personally, I’m thrilled that Colombian-American children in New Jersey will be more likely to hear their peers singing about Bruno, rather than recycling the tired tropes about Colombia’s drug wars of the 80s and 90s. It is transformational on many levels.
Of course, significant challenges still exist.
The pandemic strained Colombia’s national budgets and poverty increased. The government’s presence in rural areas of the country diminished, illicit coca cultivation continued to proliferate, and armed criminal groups have returned to open conflict and are terrorizing local communities.
Additionally, last year, the world watched as an ill-fated tax reform proposal sparked countrywide protests and brought violence to Colombian cities unseen in decades. And, Colombia is also shouldering an already generous response to Venezuela’s protracted refugee crisis—a crisis that rivals the tragedy in Syria in size and impact.
That said, I believe that the complexity of the world today demands that we embrace the opportunity to address different challenges—challenges like social and economic inequality, environmental deterioration, human rights, and the creeping influences of extra-regional actors like Russia and China.
These issues may not affect the lives of Americans as directly as drug trafficking, but they are critical to the strength of democracy in our hemisphere, and to the region’s overall health and resilience. In today’s world, they must be the priority.
It is long past time that we modernize our relationship with Colombia to focus on the realities of the present rather than the ghosts of the past. And, to elevate our partnership to reflect Colombia’s growing leadership on the world stage.
We cannot afford to rest on our laurels. As we saw, former President Trump was a wrecking ball to U.S.-Colombia relations, going so far as to say that Colombian President Duque had ‘done nothing’ to work with the United States—an insult that is untethered from reality.
That is why, with our countries celebrating 200 years of diplomatic relations this year, I am announcing the most expansive legislative initiative to date to reinvigorate U.S.-Colombia relations.
The U.S.-Colombia Strategic Alliance Act will formally designate Colombia as a Major Non-NATO Ally of the United States. It will strengthen our partnership on international security and defense issues, as well as human rights and labor rights. It will also create a new Enterprise Fund to catalyze investments in Colombian businesses as they recover from the pandemic, and promote efforts to diversify U.S. supply chains away from a reliance on China.
My bipartisan legislation will facilitate new opportunities for women entrepreneurs and members of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities. Importantly, it will also propose actions to bolster Colombia’s efforts to address the hemisphere’s historic refugee and migration challenges, and to support conservation of Colombia’s truly privileged biodiversity.
The bill reinforces the United States’ support for the full implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord, which continues to be the best—albeit imperfect—tool to build peace and democratic governance in Colombia.
I’ll close by noting that bipartisan support for Colombia has directly contributed to the success of the U.S. approach. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues on this new legislation, and welcome the views of our esteemed panelists on how we can modernize and strengthen our relationship in light of the new opportunities and challenges we face.
With that, let me to the distinguished Ranking Member for his opening remarks.”