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LATIN AMERICA | 21-04-2023 18:56

Colombia president supports lifting Venezuela sanctions in Biden meeting

US President Joe Biden said he is committed to resolving the crisis in Venezuela, after Colombia's President Gustavo Petro asked for sanction lift

US President Joe Biden said he is committed to resolving the crisis in Venezuela, after Colombia's President Gustavo Petro asked for sanctions to be lifted on the far-left government in return for restoring democracy.

In a joint statement following a meeting at the White House on Thursday, the two leaders expressed a "shared commitment to support and contribute to the resolution of the situation in Venezuela."

Petro, Colombia's first leftist president, told reporters that he discussed a strategy with Biden for resolving the crisis in far-left leader Nicolas Maduro's Venezuela, which is deeply isolated by US and European sanctions.

"A strategy was proposed... which is to hold elections first and then lift sanctions. Or gradually – as an electoral agenda is fulfilled, those sanctions are also lifted in parallel," Petro said.

He said he and Biden had discussed a conference on Venezuela to be hosted by Colombia next week with foreign ministers from Europe, Latin America, and the United States.

Washington supports the lifting of sanctions for democracy, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday.

"We've long been clear that we will – we would – review our sanctions policies in response to constructive steps by the Maduro regime and if the Venezuelan parties can make meaningful progress in return to a democracy."

Calling Colombia a "key" to the hemisphere, Biden said Petro had been "outspoken and strong" on human rights in a region with a long history of abuses and armed conflict.

The US president thanked Colombia for its handling of large numbers of refugees from neighbouring Venezuela, which has suffered years of economic collapse and violent political tension.

Petro told reporters after his talks that he had also asked Biden for help in developing a new, more targeted approach to the decades-long, US-backed military campaign against drug lords in Colombia.

The two leaders said they instructed their teams to "intensify and expand bilateral cooperation in intelligence and interdiction to dismantle the networks, pursue the true owners and enablers of drug trafficking in their jurisdictions, and counter illicit finance."

Petro told reporters that the key is tackling "the drug trafficking business community, which is done through intelligence work, tracing their assets and their money."

"I requested a little more help in that regard. We need more vessels, more boats, more drones."

Following the meeting, the two leaders also emphasised their commitment to "democracy, freedom and peace."

In the joint statement, Biden and Petro "condemned all forms of authoritarianism and aggression in the world, including Russia's violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity contrary to international law, while reiterating the urgent call for a stable and lasting peace."

The presidents also emphasised the need for a shift from fossil fuels to a green economy –  something Biden has prioritised during his presidency, with a historic funding bill to encourage climate-friendly technology.

Biden praised Petro's commitment to protect the Amazon and Colombia's ambitious goal of achieving net-zero deforestation by 2030.

The two leaders pledged to establish a working group to increase electrical interconnection in the Americas to reduce energy costs and dependence on fossil fuels.

Petro was elected in June as part of a wave of left-leaning leaders to win power in Latin America.

Colombia's presidential office said the visit to the White House was "a milestone in consolidating the relationship between Colombia and the United States in this new moment."

 

– TIMES/AFP

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