President Joe Biden said on Thursday he intended to name Colombia a “major non-NATO ally” – a particularly timely announcement for a South American nation seen as a bulwark against Venezuela, which is a Russian ally and enemy of the United States.
“Today I am proud to announce that I intend to designate Colombia as a major non-NATO ally…that is exactly what you are,” Biden said. “It is a recognition of the unique and close relationship between our countries.”
Colombia shares a long border with oil-producing Venezuela, which has drawn renewed attention from Washington as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted the United States to ban oil imports. Russian energy, which further shook world oil markets.
Colombia is home to 1.8 million refugees from Venezuela. President Ivan Duque Marquez is a vocal critic of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, who faces US sanctions for human rights abuses and political repression, and who recently expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the war in Ukraine.
“We very much appreciate your decision to designate Colombia as a primary non-NATO ally, as it is recognition of the values and principles that we have shared,” Duque said.
Biden administration officials traveled to Caracas last weekend to discuss with the Maduro regime a possible easing of U.S. sanctions to allow oil imports. This week, Venezuela released two Americans who had been imprisoned in the country.
Eddy Acevedo of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars said Colombia also has a lot to offer the United States at this sensitive time.
“Colombia has a lot to give,” said Acevedo, who is chief of staff and senior adviser to the think tank’s president. “It’s mind-boggling how there’s been this approach, extending this olive branch to Maduro, when there are allies in this hemisphere who could potentially help us.”
Acevedo added, “Our number one largest oil importer is actually Canada. Our second largest importer is actually Mexico. to increase production not only domestically, but imported from friendly allies instead of rogue regimes.”
For their part, Biden administration officials have said they are not looking to revert to a Cold War system where the world is divided into spheres of influence.
“Latin American and Caribbean countries are not chess pieces on a chessboard where the United States and Russia are vying for power,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of the visit. “These are countries that can choose where their national security interests lie. And I – but I think Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a watershed moment where the majority of the region rejected intervention military. But I think it’s really okay that it’s up to the countries of the region to decide what is ultimately in their national security interest.”
Biden and Duque said they would privately discuss counterterrorism cooperation, regional immigration, climate change and energy transition ahead of a Summit of the Americas, to be hosted by the United States in June.