By Marco Rubio
Gustavo Petro the candidate presented himself as a populist reformer, promising Colombians a “government of hope.” Gustavo Petro the president, who will speak with President Joe Biden in the White House this Thursday (if he can make his scheduled meeting on time), comes to the United States as an agent of chaos.
The most obvious and egregious instance of this is Petro’s “peace talks.” For decades, Colombia has been ravaged by the violent outbursts of rebel groups like the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Over the past few months, Petro has sought to end the violence through negotiations, even with sadistic criminal drug cartels like the Clan del Golfo, which have never expressed an interest in talks. His ostensible goal is “total peace,” but he’s only sowing disaster, not only in Colombia, but across our region.
Case in point: the ELN continues to attack the Colombian government, in total disregard for the peace negotiations and the Colombian people. Late last month, guerillas murdered nine soldiers. Another attack occurred this week. These are the mercenaries Petro wants to appease, even to the point of backtracking on Colombia’s longstanding extradition agreement with the U.S. It’s terrible, but it’s what happens when you negotiate with terrorists from a position of weakness.
It’s also what happens when you cooperate with tyrants. Since his election, Petro has been the foremost Latin American advocate of “engagement” with narco-dictator Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and puppet dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel in Cuba. The reason is obvious: he wants both regimes to use their leverage over the ELN in Colombia’s favor. But it’s a fool’s errand, because internationally ostracized dictators have nothing to gain from increasing stability in the region. No wonder Maduro and Cuba’s “guarantor” role in Petro’s talks has amounted to nothing.
Petro is all the crazier for wanting to mediate negotiations between Venezuela’s narco-regime and members of the Venezuelan opposition. Virtually every other country in the world, including Vatican City and Switzerland, knows Maduro will make no concessions and will only use talks to stall for time while he strengthens his authoritarian grip on power. Yet Petro is charging ahead, excited to create a “road map” for “effective political dialogue.” It’s absurd and naïve.
The icing on the cake is that Petro has also joined the ranks of Latin America’s pro-China voices. In February, his Ministry of Foreign Affairs went so far as to issue guidelines instructing Colombian officials to refuse contact with Taiwan. This is to the detriment of the U.S., which needs as many partners as it can get to balance the region’s growing Beijing-led coalition. But it’s also to the detriment of Colombians, who will come to regret any ties they form with the exclusively self-interested Chinese Communist Party.
President Biden must remember all this in today’s meeting with Petro. When he discusses security cooperation and counter-narcotics, he should push the Colombian president to reconsider his failing peace talks. When he discusses democratic values and human rights, he should bring up Petro’s courting of Maduro, Díaz-Canel, and Xi Jinping.
Above all, President Biden must not cave in to any of Petro’s demands, such as his request to suspend Colombia’s extradition agreement with the U.S., in pursuit of some pie-in-the-sky goal like a climate deal. Americans and Colombians both deserve better than that.