Editor’s Note: Rep. Gregory Meeks is a Democrat representing New York’s 5th Congressional District in the US House of Representatives. Rep. Ruben Gallego is a Democrat representing Arizona’s 7th Congressional District. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. Read more opinion at CNN.
The United States and Colombia are close friends, and close friends speak honestly. That’s why, as US elected representatives, we have a very clear message for our Colombian counterparts: Show us the respect of staying out of our elections.
In recent weeks, we have noticed a deeply troubling trend: Several Colombian politicians are publicly choosing sides in the US election. Politicians such as Senator María Fernanda Cabal, Senator Carlos Felipe Mejía, and Congressman Juan David Vélez – a dual US-Colombian citizen, whom we could more reasonably expect to participate in American democracy – have taken to social media, and one has taken to the press to take sides in America’s upcoming presidential vote. Some have even repeated the fabrication that Vice President Joe Biden is a communist or a radical socialist. Earlier, Senator Gustavo Petro also weighed in, expressing a preference for Biden on Twitter.
“WE WILL MAKE COLOMBIA GREAT AGAIN,” Vélez wrote on Twitter this month, retweeting a President Trump tweet calling Biden a “PUPPET of CASTRO-CHAVISTAS” in the Democratic Party. Cabal insinuated Biden is controlled by the loose collection of left-leaning activists known as Antifa. Mejía tweeted a two-minute video from Latinos for Trump in which campaign aide Mercedes Schlapp, in response to Petro’s endorsing Biden, calls Biden “the candidate of the radical left” and compares him to communists.
For the good of both of our countries, this kind of behavior has to end now.
Of course, we know that the individuals who have recently weighed in on our election hardly speak for all. Most Colombian politicians, including those in government, continue to respect our institutions and democratic processes. But just as we would call out any Democrats meddling in Colombia’s elections, we believe recent side-taking demands an unequivocal response from our friends in Bogotá: that enough is enough.
Support for Colombia has never depended on whether a Democrat or Republican was in the White House – nor, for that matter, on the party affiliation of Colombia’s presidents. It should stay that way.
When we first noticed these actions, we were shocked that they were coming from Colombia, one of our closest democratic partners. We believe this amounts to a form of election interference: Biden is not a communist, and in spreading that message, the Colombian lawmakers saying this are misinforming American voters and citizens of their own country. The unscrupulous judgment of even just a handful of Colombian politicians hurts the country’s image and credibility.
These public comments are deeply unethical. Absurd lies about Biden representing Fidel Castro or Hugo Chávez-style socialism are downright manipulative. And toying with the trauma of Colombians who have escaped left-wing guerrilla violence, and that of Venezuelans who have fled the tyrannical rule of Nicolás Maduro, is shameful. This fearmongering does nothing more than cruelly force diaspora families in the US to relive the pain of their dislocation.
The US has recently undergone a painful saga over foreign influence on our elections. After Russia’s interference in 2016 and the probe conducted by Robert Mueller, which culminated in a 450-page report, prompted numerous arrests, foreign attempts to push US elections in any direction are an especially sensitive matter for our country. These comments do not help.
At the end of the day, though, this isn’t about individual politicians. It’s about a partnership built between our two countries over decades – a partnership that we both need now more than ever.
Republicans and Democrats have disagreed in the past on crucial foreign policy issues, but when it comes to support for Colombia, there has long been consensus. Can you imagine negotiating our most significant accomplishments – from Plan Colombia to the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement – without support from both parties? We doubt it. What about US support for Colombia’s candidacy as both a NATO global partner and member of the OECD? Republicans and Democrats trade places in the White House every few years. Support for Colombia is a rare constant. Taking sides in US elections threatens to undermine the strategic relationship.
None of us wants to see our partnership suffer. That’s because we know how much our countries can achieve when we work side by side. Today, Colombia is far safer and more prosperous than it was twenty years ago – an accomplishment built on the backs of our brave Colombian partners and facilitated by across-the-aisle support here in the US. Colombia is once again facing a series of unprecedented challenges, including the Covid-19 pandemic, an economic downturn, a spike in insecurity and the Venezuelan refugee and migrant crisis. Regardless of whether Biden wins the White House come November, we want nothing more than to sustain – in fact, to increase – our cooperation with Colombia to tackle these challenges together.
But partnership is not a guarantee. It relies on mutual trust. When Colombian politicians choose sides, they put all of that hard-won goodwill in danger.
With so much uncertainty and so much at stake, now is not the time to play with fire. Now is not the time to burn bridges. It’s the time to strengthen the ones we have built – regardless of party – together. To do otherwise is short sighted and promises to endanger one of the hemisphere’s most essential relationships.