Rubio to Scrutinize Credentials of Nominee for Colombia Ambassadorship

Washington has recently pressed Bogota over 'America First' trade, business priorities

Colombian coca plantation

Colombian coca plantation / Getty Images

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As the Senate begins its consideration of President Donald Trump's controversial pick for Colombia ambassador this week, Bogota is facing more pressure from Washington to open its market to U.S. manufacturers and protect U.S. intellectual property rights.

A trio of Senate Republicans have expressed deep concerns about Trump's choice of Joseph Macmanus, a career foreign service officer with no business experience, to serve as the top U.S. diplomatic post in Bogota.

Macmanus, who has the strong support of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other top State Department officials, heads to Capitol Hill Wednesday for a Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearing.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), who has expressed deep reservations about Macmanus' selection, will chair the hearing and plans to scrutinize his credentials for the role.

"Senator Rubio still has concerns and looks forward to the nominations hearing to address those concerns," a Rubio spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon.

Rubio, along with GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, have questioned Macmanus' close ties to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the role he played in handling the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack, as well as the scandal involving Clinton's use of a private email server.

They also worry that Macmanus does not support Trump's "America First" agenda or his threats to pull U.S. aid to Colombia if Bogota fails to curb a dramatic spike in the country's coca production.

A Senate source has pledged that one senator will put a hold on Macmanus' nomination, which could block his ascension to the post until the beginning of next year, when the Trump administration would have to re-nominate him.

Republican concerns have focused on Macmanus' ties to Clinton and whether he could execute Trump's agenda in the role.

Macmanus' dearth of business and trade experience also has taken on new importance in recent weeks as Colombia has pressed the United States for support for inclusion in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a 35-member international organization that helps democratic countries foster economic growth and world trade.

Colombia's trade minister is in Washington this week to plead Bogota's case for OECD accession. In advance of the meeting on regional trade, the U.S. trade representative urged Bogota to open its markets to U.S. heavy truck manufacturers and to overhaul the country's practices for making medicines available, a longtime priority for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry.

USTR Robert Lighthizer, in a Feb. 14 letter to Colombia's trade minister on Bogota's interest in OECD membership, wrote that when it comes to the pharmaceutical-related concerns, "key stakeholders remain dissatisfied and doubt Colombia's willingness or ability to implement the additional commitments in a meaningful way."

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents big U.S. drug companies such as Pfizer and Bayer, is taking exception to Colombia's challenges to U.S. company's exclusive patent rights for hepatitis C treatments in an effort to lower drug prices for hundreds of thousands of its citizens who suffer from the disease.

Additionally, there are new concerns about Bogota's intention to write requirements for a government natural gas contract to deliberately shut out U.S. energy companies from contention and favor European countries, knowledgeable business sources told the Free Beacon.

Information about the way the Colombian government is trying to structure the requirements for the contract, known as a tender, came to light last week, just after several senior U.S. State Department officials traveled to Colombia for a high-level dialogue.

The two countries committed to "deepen U.S.-Colombia energy-sector cooperation, building on the success of the previous dialogue," according to a State Department release.

During the visit, the United States and Colombia also agreed to work together to reduce by half the production of cocaine and coca cultivation by 2023, according to Tom Shannon, State's undersecretary of political affairs, who strongly backs Macmanus.

The State Department did not provide details on what Bogota had agreed to do to accomplish the goal. Under the so-called "Plan Colombia" program, the United States provided roughly $10 billion in aid and military assistance to Bogota between 2000 and 2015 to fight leftist narco-terrorist insurgents, and now provides an estimated $400 million annually.

"The hypocrisy is off the charts," remarked one foreign policy expert familiar with the details of the contract.

The expert accused the State Department of "playing nice" with the Colombian government while cocaine production is "going through the roof" and letting Bogota continue to turn its back on the U.S. energy, pharmaceutical and trucking sectors while taking hundreds of millions of dollars each year in U.S. aid.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has halted aerial spraying, a decision that the Drug Enforcement Agency has said produced the greatest increase in Colombian cocaine production ever recorded.

Trump last fall threatened to decertify Colombia as a partner in the war against drugs unless the South American nation does more to reverse the record surge in cocaine production.

The United States is the largest consumer of cocaine worldwide and receives an estimated 90 percent of its cocaine from Colombia.

Some foreign policy officials at home and abroad publicly criticized Trump's public repudiation of Santos' record on coca eradication and warnings that the U.S. financial support could end if Bogota doesn't more readily respond to U.S. interests.

Other Latin American experts have praised the position.

"The Trump administration deserves credit (instead of scorn from some foreign policy elites) for the direct message to President Santos," William Burlew, the executive director for the U.S. Colombia Business Partnership and a former Congressional staffer who worked on Plan Colombia, wrote in a recent op-ed. "For the sake of both countries, Colombia needs to change its current approach to fighting narcotics traffickers or face a drug crisis from within, without a full-fledged U.S. partner this time around."

Susan Crabtree

Susan Crabtree   Email Susan | Full Bio | RSS
Susan Crabtree is a senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. She is a veteran Washington reporter who has covered the White House and Congress over the past two decades. She has written for the Washington Examiner, the Washington Times, the Hill newspaper, Roll Call, and Congressional Quarterly.

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