Editorial: Non-NATO ally

President Joe Biden said last week that he intends to designate Colombia as a major non-NATO ally, a step that will provide the Latin American nation with benefits in the areas of defense, trade and security cooperation.

Biden made the announcement as he hosted Colombian President Ivan Duque at the White House for the first time.

The visit follows weekend talks between Biden administration officials and the leftist government of Nicolás Maduro in neighbouring Venezuela, which has a tense relationship with both the US and Colombia.

Avoiding a potentially awkward moment, neither Biden nor Duque raised the US-Venezuela meeting in their public remarks. Colombia is a close US ally, and Duque leads opposition to Maduro in the region, Biden said he intends to bring Colombia into the NATO fold. ‘That’s exactly what you are, a major, major non-NATO ally, and this is a recognition of the unique and close relationship between our countries,’ he told Duque, who sat directly across from the president at a large table in the Cabinet Room, each leader joined by a small group of advisers.

‘Colombia is the lynchpin, in my view, to the whole hemisphere,’ Biden said. Duque said Biden’s announcement recognized ‘values and the principles’ shared by both Western Hemisphere countries.

Back home, Duque has been criticized for not sitting down earlier with the US president, his strategic partner. The two did meet briefly late last year at a gathering of world leaders for a climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. Duque’s visit to the White House came amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and approaching Presidential elections in Colombia that will decide his successor.

When both Presidents mentioned Venezuela, it was in the context of the assistance Colombia has provided nearly 2 million Venezuelan refugees who have crossed the border to flee poor economic and living conditions back home.

Duque has led regional opposition to Venezuela’s Maduro, whom he describes as a ‘dictator’ — a characterization he repeated under questioning by Colombian journalists after his meeting with Biden. Duque recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president.

Colombia’s government has questioned the military assistance Russia has provided to Venezuela and has expressed fears of possible ‘foreign interference’ in Colombia, which shares a vast border with Venezuela, without providing evidence.

Duque has not spoken publicly about the US-Venezuela meeting, and continued to hold his tongue Thursday following the White House visit. ‘On the issues and details having to do with the visit (to Venezuela), I think US authorities have to answer about that,’ he told the Colombian journalists.

‘Our position with respect to the regime of Nicolás Maduro has not changed at all.’ Colombian Vice President and Foreign Minister Marta Lucía Ramírez has said the meeting ‘took her by surprise.’ Venezuela recently announced a military deployment on the border to combat what it said are Colombian armed groups. Both Biden and Duque denounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with Biden saying it was not just a threat to Ukraine but to ‘peace and stability’ everywhere. He commended Duque for the strong stance he took against the invasion, including Colombia’s vote in the UN General Assembly to condemn Russia’s actions.