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Biden to hold first meeting with Colombia’s leftist president

#Biden #hold #meeting #Colombias #leftist #president

Colombian President Gustavo Petro will travel to Washington next week for his first meeting with President Joe Biden, the two countries announced Friday, as the longstanding US ally charts a new course under its first leftist leader.

Biden will welcome Petro on Thursday to discuss key issues involving Colombia including climate change, drug trafficking and migration, the White House said.

The two leaders will also speak about how to “promote democratic values and human and labor rights in the region and the world,” a White House statement said.

Colombia’s Narino Palace said that the visit, at Biden’s invitation, “will be a milestone in consolidating the relationship between Colombia and the United States in this new moment.”

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

Petro has sought to shift away from longstanding US-backed policies in Colombia including by moving away from a military-led campaign against drugs.

The new Colombian president has also pursued diplomacy with Venezuela, after his predecessor worked with the United States to topple leftist leader Nicolas Maduro, who presides over a crumbling economy from which millions have fled.

Days ahead of the visit, the FBI put a leader of Colombia’s ELN rebels on its most-wanted list over narco-trafficking in apparent coordination with Bogota, which is nonetheless pursuing talks with the armed group.

The State Department also offered a $5 million reward for information for Wilver Villegas-Palomino, described by the FBI as a ranking member of the ELN, a long-running insurgent group which stands for the National Liberation Army.

The FBI’s Houston office accused Villegas-Palomino of running laboratories in Colombia behind at least 80 percent of the cocaine entering the United States and of alleged responsibility for ordering kidnappings and assassinations as well as money laundering and weapons trafficking.

Villegas-Palomino’s “placement on the FBI’s ten most wanted list reinforces our nation’s partnership with Colombia to combat both terrorism and the spread of dangerous narcotics into the US and around the world,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.

Colombia in February signalled its support for extraditing Villegas-Palomino, who is also wanted at home for homicide, after judging that he was not being sought for political reasons.

Three other ELN members were extradited to the United States in 2021 as part of an alleged 20-year plan involving Villegas-Palomino to export cocaine. 

ELN representatives are set to resume talks with Petro’s government on April 26 in Cuba. The negotiations come despite an ELN attack last month in northeastern Colombia that killed nine soldiers. 

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