Conservative Philip Goldberg, who was accused of fomenting dissent in 2008, will oversee vast military aid budget
Donald Trump has nominated a controversial career diplomat who was once expelled from Bolivia as the new US ambassador to Colombia, in a move that is likely to raise eyebrows across Latin America.
Philip Goldberg served as the US ambassador to Bolivia for two years before its leftwing president, Evo Morales, accused him of fomenting dissent in 2008 and ordered him to leave the country.
Goldberg had provoked the Bolivian president’s fury by meeting with members of the rightwing opposition; the US denied Morales’s accusations and expelled Bolivia’s envoy to Washington in response.
Unlike Bolivia, which has been governed by Morales since 2006, Colombia has long been a staunch ally of the US, which views it as a bulwark against leftwing governments across the region.
Colombia is also currently a staging ground for the diplomatic push to oust Nicolás Maduro, the embattled president of neighbouring Venezuela.
Washington backed Colombia in its war against leftist insurgent groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or Farc), who signed a peace deal with the government in 2016.
Beginning in 2000, the US provided Colombia with nearly $10bn in aid – dubbed Plan Colombia – 71% of which went to Colombian security forces. Watchdogs say that rather than help Colombia win on the battlefield, Plan Colombia intensified a wave of paramilitary violence that victimized more than 6 million people.
Goldberg once served as the coordinator of Plan Colombia from the embassy in Bogotá.
“He’ll probably be more focused on military assistance and crop eradication than on peace accord implementation and protecting human rights,” said Adam Isacson, the director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, a thinktank. “But that’s the current US stance, anyway.”
Isacson said that the nomination of Goldberg, whose tenure as ambassador to Cuba was without any major provocations, showed that “the Trump administration will have a conservative diplomat representing it in Colombia – but at least a diplomat. Not a super-hardline political appointee from Maga-world.”
Despite traditionally good relations between Washington and Bogotá, the Trump administration has voiced frustration with Colombia’s president, Iván Duque, and the country’s inability to curb cocaine production, which continues to break records.
“I’ll tell you something: Colombia, you have your new president of Colombia, really good guy. I’ve met him, we had him at the White House,” Trump told reporters in March. “More drugs are coming out of Colombia right now than before he was president – so he has done nothing for us.”
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