Colombian President Gustavo Petro (L) and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (AP)

Colombian President Gustavo Petro (L) and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (AP)

Roundup: Secretary Blinken's Trip to Colombia, Chile, and Peru

By Jon Orbach

The U.S. secretary of state headed to South America to meet with the new presidents and attend the OAS General Assembly.

During the week of October 4, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed to Colombia, Chile, and Peru to meet presidents and discuss cooperation on drug policy, climate change, security, trade, and migration. He also attended the OAS General Assembly in Lima. The trip comes as observers note that China is making continued inroads in the region at Washington’s expense.

AS/COA Online summarizes the secretary’s trip to Colombia, Chile, and Peru.

Colombia: October 3–4

With Colombia considered a close ally of Washington, the two countries have collaborated on anti-insurgency military campaigns, anti-drug measures including aerial fumigation, and, more recently, isolating Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian regime in Venezuela.

But when leftist President Gustavo Petro came to power in August 2022, speculation grew that the relationship might get strained. Petro has pledged to reopen diplomatic relations with Venezuela and end the war on drugs, the latter of which he pressed for during his first speech to the UN General Assembly in September.

Petro’s meeting with Blinken in Bogotá was cordial, though the two sides differed on Washington’s Cuba policy. The secretary thanked Colombia for taking in Venezuelan migrants and granting them temporary legal status.

Petro did say during the joint press conference, “We view the war on drugs differently,” and noted that he is opposed to extraditing Colombian narcotrafficking suspects to the United States. But Blinken noted they were “largely in sync” on drug policy as a whole. “We strongly support the holistic approach that President Petro’s administration is taking to counter narcotics through comprehensive rural security, justice, development, environmental protection, supply reduction as well as demand reduction including in the United States,” the secretary said. For his part, Petro suggested to the official that he “eventually will be U.S. president,” to Blinken’s surprise.

Blinken also met with Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva and joined Vice President Francia Márquez at a signing ceremony to support the Ethnic Chapter of the 2016 peace deal between the government and the FARC rebel group. The chapter includes rights for Colombia’s ethnic minorities, who Blinken said have been disproportionately affected by the country’s decades-long conflict.

Chile: October 5

Meeting with President Gabriel Boric and Foreign Minister Antonia Urrejola in Santiago, Blinken praised the “shared priorities” of Chile and the United States, especially around trade. He brought up the increase in trade between the countries since they inked a free-trade accord in 2003; bilateral trade has more than quadrupled since then. “We intend to build on those ties, something we talked about today,” he said.

Though Blinken noted that two-way trade reached $38 billion last year, China is Chile’s top trade partner, with bilateral trade reaching $57.7 billion.

The countries have had foreign policy differences in the past. Boric called on the administration of President Joe Biden to invite Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to the Ninth Summit of the Americas in June, framing Washington’s decision not to invite those countries to the Los Angeles event as a missed opportunity. On the other hand, while in New York for UN leader meetings in September, Boric criticized Latin America’s left for failing to call out human rights violations in Nicaragua and Venezuela.

During Blinken’s visit, Urrejola said, “As allies and friendly countries, we shared directly and frankly our viewpoints. We noticed that we have areas of agreement and areas where we can move forward in a substantial fashion.” Blinken, for his part, recognized Chile’s “leadership” in democracy, human rights, and climate efforts during his visit. Boric called the conversation “very good” and said that Chile and the United States together “will continue working for the development of the region.”

Peru: October 6–7

In Lima, Blinken joined the OAS General Assembly, where he excoriated Russia’s war on Ukraine and said that historically marginalized communities are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the rising costs of food and energy. During the Assembly he announced that the United States will be setting aside $240 million to help stem migration in the Western Hemisphere through humanitarian assistance. In addition, the secretary met with Haiti’s Foreign Minister Jean Victor Généus to discuss that country’s security and democracy challenges.

Blinken met with Peruvian Foreign Minister César Landa, during which they discussed migration. The secretary thanked Peru for taking in more than 1.2 million Venezuelan migrants. “Our national offices and international agencies must defend the human rights of migrants, must promote their social and economic integration, and provide for regularization,” Landa said.

Blinken met with Peruvian President Pedro Castillo late on October 6. They spoke about bilateral relations, migration, and the fight against narcotrafficking. Castillo called the meeting “very productive.”