The presidents of the United States and Colombia had their first face-to-face meeting at the White House Thursday, making President Manuel Santos the third current Latin American president to meet with Donald Trump, following President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of Peru, and President Mauricio Macri of Argentina.
"One of the ways we will combat drug trafficking will be the wall," Trump said regarding the rise in drug trafficking in Colombia.
When reporters asked Santos whether he believed Trump's proposal to build a wall along the U.S. and Mexican border would be effective to counter narcotics smuggling, Santos evaded answering the question directly. He instead emphasized the need for “cooperation between nations” to combat drug trafficking, adding that the “war on drugs has not been won” and it is a “global problem” that is bigger than just Colombia and the U.S.
Trump appeared visibly annoyed that Santos didn't directly address the issue.
“Walls work, just ask Israel,” Trump added curtly.
In spite of tensions over the wall, the two presidents repeatedly affirmed that in their meeting they had strengthened the alliance between Colombia and the U.S.
“For a long time our nations have had a strategic alliance,” Santos said. “Today we continue as partners in peace ... we must continue and deepen the fight against drug trafficking, human trafficking, and illegal mining.”
Trump congratulated Santos for his role in negotiating peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, saying that Santos has “done a fantastic job,” and that “there's nothing tougher than peace.”
Whereas other U.S. administrations have provided major political, financial and military support to Colombia, the Trump administration's position has been largely unclear with some interpreting his unannounced April meeting with former Colombian presidents Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana as an indication of his lack of support for peace. Uribe and Pastrana are among the most prominent voices opposing peace deals with the rebel forces.
President Trump also indicated that the ongoing opposition protests in Venezuela were on the agenda for their meeting.
“President Santos and I discussed the deteriorating situation in Venezuela ... I knew that Venezuela was a very wealthy country, and now it's poverty stricken, people don't have enough to eat, and we will do whatever is necessary to help with fixing that. I'm really talking on a humanitarian level when you look at the oil reserves you have to wonder how that is possible. Its been unbelievably poorly run for a while. Hopefully, that will change.”
He stated this in spite of the fact that poverty levels in Venezuela have been cut in half since the democratic election of Hugo Chavez in 1998.
In response to a question on free trade, Santos said that they had discussed the establishment of an “entrepreneurial council between the U.S. and Colombia.” The meeting occurs on the same day that the Trump administration begins renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was a key part of Trump's “America First” campaign.