Colombian President Ivan Duque, interviewed Saturday by VOA's Latin America Division, discussed the battle against the National Liberation Army in Venezuela and strengthening his country's ties with Washington.
Question: So, Mr. President, with a new government in Venezuela, what opportunities do you see in dealing with the issue of ELN (the National Liberation Army) operating in Venezuela?
Ivan Duque: The first thing to say is that the dictatorship in Venezuela was the major supporter of ELN. They harbored ELN, they gave them shelter, they gave them protection, and they also participated in the narco-trafficking activities of that group. Now, that is a direct violation of Resolution 1373 of September 2001 by the U.N. Security Council. That means the Venezuelan dictatorship was in bed with those criminals, and I think a transition (to) Juan Guiado (and) the National Assembly, the reconstruction of Venezuela, the transition to a new institution of order would also help Venezuela and Colombia to share the values of fighting terrorism and putting an end to the operation of those groups.
So I see ... moving toward democracy in Venezuela as a great opportunity to put an end to the dramatic, horrible and criminal violence of ELN.
Question: What is the outcome of this state visit here to the U.S.? What do you take back home with you, Mr. President?
Duque: Well, I'm very happy. I think this was a great visit. I mean, we not only strengthened the bilateral relationship between Colombia and the United States, we also talked about trade, we met business leaders, we hope to have new investments, we participated in a meeting in Wall Street with bankers, investors and analysts from different agencies, and they see Colombia with hope. We expect this year to have not only a primary fiscal surplus of 0.6 percent of GDP, but we also expect our economy to grow above 3.4 percent, which would be the highest growth in recent years.
So I see ... from the investors' community a great confidence towards Colombia. But we also have to say we saw great support, bipartisan support, in Congress, on Capitol Hill, when we met with members of the foreign affairs committees in the Senate and in the House. We also met with (House) Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi. So what we saw this week with the White House, with the strong support of President (Donald) Trump and his team, with the ... bipartisan support in Congress, (is) that Colombia is still seen as the most important ally the U.S. has in the Western Hemisphere.
And we also had the opportunity to speak to members of the press. We participated in think tanks. We participated in university discussions.
So I think this visit has been very valuable, and we have also seen that there has been an increase in the help to Colombia in order to be more effective in the humanitarian aid for Venezuela, be more effective in the institutional order to fight the narco-trafficking and terrorism. So I think this has been a successful visit.
Listen to the entire interview in Spanish here.