On the blink

Blinken visits Colombia, Chile and Peru as he seeks to improve US relations with the region.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Colombia, Chile, and Peru in the first week of October to attend the General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (“OAS”) in Lima. He also held discussions on bilateral relations with a specific focus on migration, drug-trafficking, post-Covid-19 economic recovery, climate change, and diplomatic efforts in Venezuela.

A foreign relations expert in Colombia commented, “Blinken’s visit to Latin America sent a clear message that the region is still important for the US. This is important as Peru, Chile and Colombia have left-wing governments that may be more natural allies of China rather than the US.”

“Blinken’s visit to Latin America sent a clear message that the region is still important for the US.”

Foreign relations expert, Colombia

The visit was seen as an opportunity for Blinken to engage in constructive dialogue with the recently elected left wing leaders in all three countries who, in the past, shared critical views of Washington influence in their boarders. As a result, Blinken opted for a pragmatic stance, stating that what motivated the electorate in these countries was their governments addressed their concerns and needs.

In Bogotá, President Gustavo Petro, insisted upon renewing US relations, prioritising a new international approach to drug trafficking. While there appeared to be no major sticking points, Petro’s administration said that no agreements had been reached and stated that both parties held different views, especially on extradition. In contrast, Blinken said that both parties agreed on most matters and that they had discussed stepping up intelligence sharing.

A former advisor to the Colombian government felt that references to increased intelligence sharing had Venezuela in mind, “Venezuela is crucial for Colombia and the US. The US has been getting closer to Venezuela throughout the energy crisis and both countries have interests in stemming migration. During this visit, the US strategy had more of a collaborative approach – they are seeking a closer dialogue with Colombia, Chile, and Peru on the region’s issue.”

“During this visit, the US strategy had more of a collaborative approach – they are seeking a closer dialogue with Colombia, Chile, and Peru on the region’s issue.”

Former advisor to the Colombian government

This strategy was replicated in Chile and Peru. Antonia Urrejola, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Chile, said that US investment relationship in the country must be further expanded and strengthened after years of increasing trade with China. In Peru, President Pedro Castillo asked for further collaboration to achieve specific goals, including food security and the supply of fertilisers.

A Peruvian diplomat felt the visit had been a success, “The visit of a high authority is a sign of good relations. Some have been questioning the level of US interest and influence in Latin America but I don’t think there is a feeling of abandonment. Obviously, China has made commercial inroads in the region, perhaps the US could replicate this, but regardless, Latin America wants positive relations with both superpowers.”

Blinken’s visit corroborated how the US remains a reliable partner for South America after years of perceived neglect, which saw an increase in the influence of China in the region. An editorial published by the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo said that US-Colombian relations remained solid as the visit went smoothly despite some divergences. In Chile, Blinken’s visit was seen as an opportunity to advance the agenda on tangible issues such as trade, investment, renewable energies, and human rights.

The foreign relations expert opined, “US diplomatic efforts to find a common agenda with countries in Latin America will be appreciated but it might not be enough, unless it is backed up with significant improvements in investment and trade. After this visit, I see El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as key to US-efforts to mitigate the migration crisis but their relations with the US are not good, this should be a priority for the US.”

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