President Iván Duque Supports Guaidó, Praises Economic Policy in Georgetown Address
Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez (GRD ’07) spoke at Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall on February 14 on the policy agenda for Latin America, calling for a global diplomatic blockade of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and praising the success of Colombia’s recent economic policies.
The event was co-hosted by the Latin American Leadership Program, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the Colombian Law Students Association at Georgetown University Law Center. It was just one of Duque’s many stops on a busy first official visit to the United States, but he expressed love for his alma mater. “I feel the Hoya spirit,” Duque said upon taking the stage.
The Colombian president spoke at length about the current political crisis in Venezuela, calling for a global diplomatic blockade. On January 23, the head of that country’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president on constitutional grounds. The tug-of-war between Maduro and Guaidó has since divided the globe, with Russia, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Bolivia backing Maduro while most Western liberal democracies have officially recognized Guaidó.
The future largely rests in the hands of the Venezuelan military, who have thus far remained loyal to the Maduro regime. Duque insisted that the international community must, therefore, do everything it can to incentivize defections and facilitate a transition. He called Guaidó a “hero” and a “genuine and true patriot” and argued that, if Maduro continues to block the entrance of humanitarian relief packages, he should be found guilty of crimes against humanity.
“As president of Colombia, I will be doing everything I can to free the Venezuelan people from Nicolás Maduro,” he said to resounding applause. Guaidó has set February 23 as the date for thousands of volunteers to march into Venezuela in relief caravans. The plan creates a direct confrontation with Maduro and puts significant pressure on the military, which will ultimately decide whether or not to let the aid through.
When asked about the challenges of receiving the 1.2 million Venezuelan refugees that have arrived in Colombia over the last few years, Duque explained that the greatest logistical difficulty has been in providing adequate healthcare. “Maduro’s administration has not vaccinated Venezuelan children in years,” he exclaimed.
But, he refused to make a prediction on how long Maduro’s regime will survive. Most important, he insisted, was that the Venezuelan people are growing more hopeful, and the international community is getting increasingly involved. “It needs to be a global movement,” he argued, comparing the crisis to international efforts to liberate Nelson Mandela from apartheid South Africa in 1990.
In addition to the Venezuelan crisis, Duque also addressed his administration’s counter-narcotics efforts, explaining that in recent years, coca cultivation has reached an all-time high. Colombia has long been trying to change its reputation as one of the world’s primary cocaine suppliers. But a 2017 survey by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that the area under coca cultivation had reached the highest-ever recorded figure of 171,000 hectares.
Duque argued that this resurgence has led to an increase in not only narco-trafficking but also in broader environmental degradation. His administration aims to eradicate 60 percent of illegal crops in the next three-and-a-half years, facilitating the entrance of illegal coca farmers into the legal economy.
He cited ongoing efforts by USAID and other organizations to offer alternative crops to coca-reliant family farms. These projects are based on legal and sustainable crop cultivation, and provide entrances to an established supply chain for farmers in need of options. “It is a dual goal of economic growth and formalization,” Duque explained.
But, he also mentioned that the public health aspect has become more complicated in recent years as Colombia became not just a coca-producing country but also a cocaine-consuming country. “We need to use prevention as a tool and also dismantle money laundering operations and put an end to the cartels,” Duque said.
Speaking on economic growth, the Colombian president expressed optimism. Although the OECD, a club of advanced economies, extended an invitation to Colombia in May 2018, Colombia’s income per capita remains significantly lower than other members. Raising the national income is thus a primary goal for Duque, who celebrated Colombia’s transition “from a failed state to a vibrant economy” in the last 20 years. But, he insists that there is much more work to be done.
The Colombian president aims to achieve four-percent economic growth by encouraging entrepreneurship and legalization. His economic policies entail investing in education, incentivizing growth in the creative economy and the technology sector, and encouraging intra-regional trade. He aims to lift 1.5 million Colombians out of extreme poverty and 3.4 million out of poverty by the end of his term in 2022.
With three-and-a-half years left in his presidential term, Duque has room for ambitious plans. Moreover, his central role in both the Venezuelan political crisis and the continuation of the FARC peace process negotiated by his predecessor has quickly elevated the Colombian president to the international stage. But, he was unequivocal about the need to stay involved. “It is our moral duty to express fraternity,” he said.
“On the 23rd of February, we have to say to Maduro, ‘it’s time for you to leave Venezuela.’”