Colombia’s new president Iván Duque has pledged to reinforce ties with Israel – already among the strongest in Latin America.
Mr Duque, 41, who defeated his leftist rival Gustavo Petro in last week’s elections, is an economist who spent more than a decade at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington.
A political hardliner, he served as assistant to former President Alvaro Uribe in the UN Palmer Commission investigation into the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla incident, in which Israeli soldiers scuffled with Turkish protesters attempting to break the Gaza blockade.
The panel ultimately found that the blockade was legal but that the raid, in which 10 Turkish activists were killed, had involved excessive use of force.
Colombia voted against Israel in the UN General Assembly last week in a resolution accusing Israel of “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate” use of force in Gaza and calling for an “international protection mechanism” for Palestinian civilians.
But despite this it is one of the few Latin American nations that did not support upgrading Palestine as a non-member state at the UN and was one of the three countries — along with Argentina and Mexico — which the Israeli Prime Minister,Benjamin Netanyahu visited during his tour of the region last year.
Israeli officials welcomed Mr Duque’s election victory.
“We are talking about a person who is a friend of Israel, very positive,” said Modi Efraim, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy-director general for Latin America. Mr Efraim said that Israel’s relationship with Bogotá would grow closer under the new president across a wide array of fields.
Mr Duque told a campaign rally on May 16 that, if elected, he would not rule out the possibility of moving the Colombian Embassy to Jerusalem.
If that happens, Colombia will be the third Latin American nation to make such a move, after Guatemala and Paraguay.
He later told the local radio station, Caracol, that he supported a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict and wanted his government to contribute to peace efforts.
“Colombia cannot stir up hatred in the Middle East,” he said.