Trump's State nominee raises doubts on Colombia peace pact

AP News
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Posted: Jan 22, 2017 4:12 PM

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — President Donald Trump's secretary of state nominee said he would review Colombia's recent peace agreement to determine how much the U.S. should continue to support a historic deal that had been enthusiastically backed by the Obama administration.

Rex Tillerson's comments came in a written response to questions that members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent to him as part of the confirmation process.

As the staunchest U.S. ally in Latin America, Colombia has received billions of dollars in U.S. aid over the past two decades to combat drug trafficking and leftist rebels who fund their insurgency from it. The Obama administration was a key backer of President Juan Manuel Santos' efforts to end the half-century conflict by appointing a special envoy to the talks and promising $450 million more in U.S. aid to make sure the peace agreement signed last year holds.

Tillerson, while recognizing Colombia's importance as an ally and the success of past U.S.-Colombia cooperation, was ambiguous about the road ahead. While the remarks have not yet been made public, Tillerson's answers were first published by Latin America Goes Global, a website tracking U.S. policy toward the region. They were confirmed by a Senate aide who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to share them with journalists.

Tillerson said he would "make every effort" at continuing the partnership. But he said he plans to hold Colombia to its commitment to rein in drug production amid a surge in cocaine flowing from the country that many critics attribute to Santos' decision in 2015 to suspend U.S.-backed aerial fumigation of illegal coca crops.

"I would also seek to review the details of Colombia's recent peace agreement, and determine the extent to which the United States should continue to support it," he added.

Chris Sabatini, editor of Latin America Goes Global, said Tillerson's seeming doubts about the peace deal reflect a growing skepticism within Republican circles that have been stoked by conservative former President Alvaro Uribe. Uribe led the campaign that defeated the original peace deal in a referendum only to see Santos go ahead and ratify a revised accord a few weeks later.

"Across-the-aisle consensus on Plan Colombia helped Colombia dramatically reduce crime and violence, assisted the state in recovering its territorial integrity, led to the disarming of paramilitaries and beat back the guerrillas to the negotiating table," Sabatini said. "Now, ironically, that foundation — the bipartisan consensus — is at risk of fracturing, just as the country is at the cusp of what everyone wanted for originally: peace."

On the region's other hot spots Tillerson's views seems much more aligned with current policy.

On Venezuela, where the ruling socialists and opposition are locked in a struggle for power amid a severe economic crisis, he repeated the Obama administration's call for dialogue and for President Nicolas Maduro to release all political prisoners.

"We must continue to denounce the Maduro government's undemocratic practices, call for the release of political prisoners, and enforce sanctions against Venezuelan human rights violators and narcotics traffickers," he said

On Cuba, he appeared to leave some wiggle room to keep in place Obama's opening to the communist island, which Trump on the campaign trail vowed to reverse, saying that he'll carry consider placing "conditions" on current travel and trade regulations to motivate the release of political prisoners.

But he later says he'll carry out a "comprehensive review" of current regulations and when asked point blank he says he stands by Vice President Mike Pence's commitment to reverse the Obama administration's Cuba regulations.

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Joshua Goodman is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APjoshgoodman