December 7, 2020 — Bogota, Colombia
Colombian President Ivan Duque, appearing today on an American Jewish Committee (AJC) Advocacy Anywhere program, declared that his country is “the number one ally” of Israel and the United States in Latin America.
In a 30-minute conversation with Dina Siegel Vann, Director of AJC’s Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs (BILLA), President Duque discussed Colombia’s relations with Israel and the United States, the Jewish community in Colombia, Hezbollah, and the crisis in Venezuela.
“Colombia is the number one ally of Israel in Latin America, and the Caribbean,” said Duque. “Colombia and Israel have a long history, a very strong relationship, and we have demonstrated in this administration that we want to make that relationship stronger.”
Colombia recently signed a free trade agreement with Israel, and soon will open an innovation office in Jerusalem. “We want to take the best lessons of the start-up nation so that Colombia can become the Silicon Valley of Latin America,” said Duque.
The president noted that Colombia shares with Israel, as well as the U.S., concerns about Hezbollah and other international terrorist groups. “Terrorism is a common enemy of humankind. Terrorism does not discriminate where it takes place. It can take place on the streets of Madrid or London. It can happen in Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv or Bogota,” he said.
“There is no difference between the FARC or the ELN (National Liberation Army), ISIS or Al Qaeda,” said Duque. “They all are the same. We all need to combat frontally and with intelligence cooperation and operational cooperation how those groups are structured around the world. We have to dismantle them.”
Duque noted that most of Colombia’s terrorist groups have been included in the EU and U.S. terror lists. “Colombia is applying the same lists that the EU and the United States use, and Hezbollah is on them,” he said. “We will continue to make a call to other countries to adopt both lists,” and designating Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
Turning to relations with Washington, Duque said Colombia is “the number one ally of the United States in Latin America because we share values, we share common goals.”
“I certainly believe that the most important asset that has been built in the relationship between the U.S. and Colombia is that this relationship has been bipartisan and bicameral. No matter who is the president, the relationship, based on principles and common objectives, has been strengthened day after day, year after year, decade over decade.”
Duque reviewed highlights of the very positive and close relationship under Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump, and expressed optimism about the incoming Biden administration. “President-elect Biden is a close friend of Colombia, and there are many members of his team who know the transformation that Colombia has achieved,” he said.
Noting that Colombian society is a country of inclusion, the president expressed appreciation for the Jewish community’s instrumental roles in key sectors, including medicine, industry, air and space, academia, and the arts. “Jewish participation in Colombia keeps on strengthening day by day,” he said.
Jewish holidays, like Chanukah, have “become part of our national tradition,” he said. “The expression of religious liberty enriches a society by itself. When we celebrate, share those moments, we also are telling society that this is a country that is open for everyone, that this is a country that rejects hatred, segregation, or just any form of negative expression against another person.”
Duque said he has “always rejected antisemitism. I believe antisemitism is a mental illness, it constitutes a horrible form of expression.” The president said constant education is important to ensure that “those sentiments will never, ever grow.”
The president did not mince words on the situation in neighboring Venezuela. “What we are seeing in Venezuela is the most brutal dictatorship in recent history. It can be compared to Milosevic, to Qadhafi, to Saddam Hussein,” he said. “We cannot remain silent. We cannot be pure spectators.”
He called for increased international community pressure to end the Maduro dictatorship, create a transition government with broad representation, hold free elections, and commence a reconstruction process. “This is the moment where the world is going to be of value, of supporting the dream of the Venezuelan people to regain their liberty,” he said.
“I’m not going to throw in the towel,” the president said. “I’m going to keep defending my principles day by day because we have received 2 million Venezuelan brothers and sisters that have come to Colombia looking for shelter, for support. We know that is costly and we know it demands a lot from us. But they do not have another alternative.”
AJC, the leading global Jewish advocacy organization, has maintained a close and collaborative relationship with Colombia and its Jewish community for decades. Comunidad Judia De Colombia is an AJC international partner.
Duque is the third Latin American president to appear on the popular AJC Advocacy Anywhere online series, launched earlier this year. Argentine President Alberto Fernandez appeared in July, and Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou in May. Today’s program with President Duque, in celebration of AJC BILLA’s 15th anniversary, was the culmination of the Institute's annual Strategic Forum for Leaders of Iberian American Jewish Communities.