Colombia’s new friends

Petro pushes for Venezuela and Nicaragua to rejoin OAS.

Colombia’s diplomatic allegiances have changed dramatically since Gustavo Petro took office last August. Petro’s administration is seeking to kickstart a new era in its relations with the US, prioritising trade, the environment and technology over security. Petro’s government has also restored full diplomatic ties with Venezuela and is now pushing for both Venezuela and Nicaragua to rejoin the Organisation of American States (“OAS”) which could lead to a leftist take-over of the US-led institution.

Under Petro’s administration, Bogotá aspires to play a crucial intermediary role in the warming of US-Venezuela ties, as exemplified by the meeting in Caracas of US senior officials with members of the Nicolás Maduro government to discuss global oil supplies. A former ambassador to the OAS explained, “For Venezuela it won’t be easy, it is no longer a member of the OAS and to be admitted it will require two thirds of the members to vote in its favour. Nicaragua is currently a member of the OAS but it has withdrawn effective from next year, it can decide to return at any time although I doubt that Ortega is interested.”

“For Venezuela it won’t be easy, it is no longer a member of the OAS and to be admitted it will require two thirds of the members to vote in its favour. Nicaragua […] can decide to return at any time although I doubt that Ortega is interested.”

Former ambassador to the OAS

While Colombia ambitions to continue being a strategic partner for the US if it manages to change its bilateral relationship, Petro ambitions to strengthen ties with Latin American leftist governments, which he sees as key in talks with the ELN guerrillas and the implementation of the 2016 peace deal. Venezuela, which has direct influence over the ELN, has been given a fixed mediator seat in the peace dialogue process. Cuba, Chile and Spain will also have guarantor functions over the dialogues.

A former executive at the OAS tried to second-guess Petro’s intentions, “The Latin America countries with left-wing leaders, together with the Caribbean states, could establish a solid majority that allows them to change the current OAS priorities, and turn it into a regional political project (without the need to replace the OAS with CELAC). That may be the strategy behind Petro’s proposal. [Secretary General of the OAS] Luis Almagro would be the first casualty of such a change of direction.”

We sense-checked this hypothesis with the former ambassador to the OAS, “Colombia does not have much diplomatic weight in the OAS, but if Lula returns to power in Brazil, an alliance of Mexico with Brazil, Peru, Colombia and the support of the Caribbean will mean total control of the OAS by the left. Also, it would be the first time that there is a strategic agreement between Mexico and Brazil. Before, when José Miguel Insulza was elected OAS’s Secretary General, although the left controlled the OAS, there was a certain balance with Mexico, Colombia and Peru aligned with the United States and Canada. Today the change may be more radical.”

“If Lula returns to power in Brazil, an alliance of Mexico with Brazil, Peru, Colombia and the support of the Caribbean will mean total control of the OAS by the left.”

Former ambassador to the OAS

During the appointment of new Colombian ambassadors last week, Petro continued to criticise the OAS for causing divisions between American countries when, instead, he argued, integration should transcend ideological preferences. However, beyond Petro’s demands there are no signs yet of structural changes within the OAS.

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