PANAMA CITY —President Barack Obama will meet privately with Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos today to discuss peace talks with the FARC and — possibly — whether Colombia could play a role in facilitating a different set of talks between Venezuela and the United States.
President Santos has said he is willing to mediate talks between Obama and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, but only if both presidents ask for his help, according to Colombia's communication chief Pilar Calderón.
The U.S., however, is hinting that it prefers to go it alone.
"Our principal way of communicating with Venezuela will be direct dialogue, even as we know that there are going to be differences between our two governments on a variety of issues," Ben Rhodes, President Obama's deputy national security adviser, told Fusion's chief White House correspondent Jim Avila in Panama City on Friday.
Rhodes did not specifically address Colombia's willingness to help, but suggested that potential third-party mediators — including Cuba— aren't necessary at this point because, "frankly, we can discuss [the issues] directly with Venezuela, as we recently did by having Tom Shannon, senior state department official, travel to Venezuela for a series of meetings."
At the request of Venezuelan officials, Secretary of State John Kerry dispatched Shannon to Venezuela on April 7 for a series of meetings with President Nicolas Maduro prior to this weekend's Summit of the Americas, according to acting State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
"The Venezuelan Government has often called for direct dialogue, and we have always made clear that we maintain diplomatic relations and are willing to talk directly,” Harf told Fusion.
The already strained relations between the U.S. and Venezuela became even more complicated last month, when Obama issued an executive order that labeled Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security and slapped sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials. The U.S.' move has been condemned by most of Latin America and has galvanized Maduro's government, which over the past month has collected 10 million signatures demanding that Obama repeal his executive order.
Several hundred left-wing activists from across Latin America marched on Panama City on Thursday to show their solidarity with Venezuela and demand Obama repeal his executive order.
Santos, meanwhile, continues to redefine himself as a new peacemaker in the Americas —not only in Colombia where he's holding controversial peace talks with FARC and ELN rebel groups, but also regionally. It was the Colombian president who, as host of the last Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, said that hemispheric meetings should not continue to happen without the inclusion of Cuba.
Three years later, Cuba is participating in it's first Summit of the Americas — something that Santos celebrated on Twitter.
Tim Rogers, Fusion's senior editor for Latin America, was born a gringo to well-meaning parents, but would rather have been Nicaraguan. Also, he's the second hit on Google when you search for "Guatemalan superhero." Tim was a Nieman Fellow in 2014.