Should Colombia Join China’s Belt and Road Initiative?

Colombia is often seen as one of the United States’ most trusted allies in Latin America. It receives military, humanitarian, economic and democratic aid every year and enjoys a special relationship as the only NATO partner in Latin America and a major non-NATO ally of the United States. However, Beijing has intervened to bring Colombia closer to its sphere of influence, notably with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

To recap, the Belt and Road Initiative is a major infrastructure investment program set up by China to expand its economic, political and strategic influence overseas. Through the BRI, China disburses billions of dollars in investments and loans to build infrastructure projects around the world. Infrastructure is built primarily by Chinese companies and workers, with most related to public works and energy projects, including roads, bridges, highways, railways, dams, canals and airports .

Currently, 146 countries are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, with more lining up to join every year. Latin America was the slowest region to join, given its historical and strategic ties with the United States. However, some Latin American countries have joined, including Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and, more recently, Argentina and Nicaragua.

The May 29 presidential election could see a far-left candidate occupy the Casa de Nariño, bringing the country closer to China’s orbit. The election result would present a rare opportunity for China to consolidate its influence in Colombia and perhaps bring it into the fold of the BRI.

The BRI would have both positive and negative ramifications for Colombia.

Historically, Colombia has relied on the United States for assistance, which has mostly manifested in security assistance like Plan Colombia and the war on drugs. US-led security initiatives have had mixed results, and Colombians have expressed dissatisfaction with this type of blatant security cooperation.

For example, controversial former president Álvaro Uribe, a pioneer of Plan Colombia against guerrillas and drug cartels, is publicly credited, as a passerby from Boyacense recently told me, with “selling the country to the states -United”.

There is therefore strong anti-American and anti-imperialist sentiment in Colombia, as many Colombians are fed up with blatant US-Colombian security initiatives which are seen as bringing more death and destruction to a country with a long history. of civil conflict. China can take advantage of this grievance.

The BRI presents an opportunity for Colombia to maintain its global presence as a strong middle power in Latin America without having to rely exclusively on US defense assistance or harsh security policies. Instead, the BRI could, as it has done throughout Latin America and the rest of the Global South, foster a shift towards cooperation in economic and financial policy.

About Matthew Berkey

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