- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2022

President Biden on Tuesday reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to maintaining a strong relationship with Colombia in a call to congratulate the country’s far-left President-elect Gustavo Petro.

The election victory Sunday for Mr. Petro, a former Marxist guerrilla fighter, set the stage for potentially a major shift in U.S.-Colombia relations, as Mr. Petro signaled a desire to restore diplomatic ties with the far-left government in Venezuela. Colombia broke ties with Venezuela in 2019 at Washington’s urging.

Mr. Biden underscored during Tuesday’s call that he looks forward to working with Mr. Petro to “continue strengthening bilateral cooperation, including on climate change, health security, and implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord,” according to a White House readout of the call.

The two leaders also discussed “the importance of mutual respect and partnership as the foundation of the U.S.-Colombia relationship, and agreed to have their teams follow up and engage directly on shared interests,” the White House said.

Mr. Petro‘s victory marked the latest in a series of socialist pivots across the region where leftists and populists have recently taken power in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Honduras, Mexico and Peru.

Venezuela’s authoritarian regime praised Mr. Petro‘s victory.

“The will of the Colombian people has been heard — it went out to defend the path to democracy and peace,” said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has been characterized by successive administrations in Washington as a dictator because of his extrajudicial jailing of opposition figures.

Closer alignment between Venezuela and Colombia complicates Washington’s push to sideline Maduro.

Outgoing Colombian President Ivan Duque, a conservative, had aligned both with former President Donald Trump and with President Biden against Mr. Maduro by recognizing the claims of Venezuela’s pro-U.S. opposition leader Juan Guaido to the presidency.

Still, Biden congratulated Mr. Petro on his victory in Tuesday’s call, and commended the Colombian people for holding a free and fair election, the White House said.

Guy Taylor contributed to this story.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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