BY NIKKI R. HALEY
United Nations Ambassador
In Venezuela, inflation is on track to hit one million percent. In Nicaragua, the government is shooting protestors in the streets. But there is overlooked good news in Latin America. Colombia, a country once plagued by violence, has just had the most peaceful and democratic election in its history.
The June election of Ivan Duque as the new president of Colombia was the first since the signing of a historic peace agreement that ended half a century of war. Colombians turned out in record numbers to elect Duque, giving him a solid mandate with 54 percent of the vote. Their message was clear: The Colombian people are ready to move forward along the path outlined by their inspiring incoming president.
This is not just good news for the Colombian people. It is good news for the United States. Our future is bound up with our neighbors in Latin America. Their prosperity is our prosperity, and their security is our security. Stopping drugs, organized crime, and terrorists from crossing our borders mean stopping these threats at the source. And that means cultivating freedom, democracy, and the rule of law in Latin America. The election of President-elect Duque seals the emergence of Colombia as a strong democratic partner for the United States in combating drug trafficking and promoting regional security.
Contrast the success of the Colombian election with the meltdowns now occurring in Colombia’s neighbor, Venezuela, and in nearby Nicaragua.
Under the toxic dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has descended into failed-state status. Venezuelans are starving and the May vote that supposedly “re-elected” Maduro to another six-year term was recognized internationally as a sham. Leading opposition candidates had no choice but to boycott this phony election. The free press was silenced. Access to critically needed food was used to manipulate voters.
The Venezuelan people no longer have a government. They are unwilling victims of a criminal narco-state. The collapse of Venezuela has led to a mass exodus of its people. Thousands of Venezuelans free their country every day. The International Organization for Migration estimates that more than 2.3 million Venezuelans have left their homeland — half have relocated to Colombia.
Nicaragua has farther to fall than Venezuela, but under the increasingly violent and authoritarian government of Daniel Ortega, it has begun a rapid descent. The government and its para-police thugs have brought a reign of terror down on the Nicaraguan people. They are using lethal force against peaceful protestors, carrying out extra-judicial killings, and detaining and torturing political opponents and those who speak up for democratic reforms. More than 300 people have been killed since peaceful protests began in April.
Poverty, corruption, and violence are challenges for all countries in Latin America. The difference is how — or if — governments address these problems.
Colombia is increasingly embracing the freedom model. Colombia has democracy, economic growth, and respect for human rights. The freedom model is the future, both in the Americas and worldwide. It produces stable societies, not to mention good strategic partners for the United States.
In the coming days, I will travel to Colombia for President-elect Duque’s inauguration and see for myself how Colombians are championing democratic values in the region and dealing with the instability arising from the collapse of Venezuela and the ongoing drug epidemic.
I will go to the Colombia-Venezuela border to see first-hand how the region is affected by the massive migration.
I will also see first-hand how we can cooperate with Colombia even more closely to reduce drug trafficking into the United States.
President Trump has made substance abuse prevention and fighting drug trafficking a priority of the Administration. Despite its democratic progress, Colombia has seen a surge in cocaine production in recent years. I will discuss with President-elect Duque and other officials what we can do to reverse this trend.
Working with Colombian police and military forces, the United States helped achieve record cocaine seizures in 2017, while Colombian forces eradicated over 125,000 acres of coca last year. But there is much more to do to achieve the goal set between our two countries to reduce by half coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia.
Colombia is a vital strategic partner of the United States. The success of its freedom model is an example for the region. We look forward to working with President-elect Duque to grow our partnership in regional security, combating narcotics trafficking, protecting human rights, promoting trade, and advancing the rule of law.
The United States stands unequivocally with the people of Venezuela and Nicaragua against their corrupt governments. Colombia presents a model for their democratic aspirations. We look forward to working with the new government in Bogota to ensure that the freedom model endures for all of the Americas.
AMBASSADOR NIKKI HALEY IS THE U.S. PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UNITED NATIONS AND A MEMBER OF PRESIDENT TRUMP’S CABINET. SHE WROTE THIS FOR THE MIAMI HERALD.
Originally published in the Miami Herald on August 4, 2018