Biden expresses support for Colombia’s Duque after attack

Helicopter carrying Colombian President Ivan Duque and other ministers was fired upon on Friday near the Venezuela border.

The mark of a projectile impact is seen on a helicopter that Colombian President Ivan Duque was travelling in, after it was fired upon, in Cucuta, Colombia on June 25 [Colombia Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

United States President Joe Biden has expressed support for his Colombian counterpart, Ivan Duque, after a helicopter carrying the Colombian president and other government officials was fired upon late last week near the border with Venezuela.

In a statement on Monday, the White House said Biden called Duque “to express U.S. support following the attack”.

The helicopter was struck by multiple bullets when flying through the country’s Catatumbo region towards the city of Cucuta, capital of the Norte de Santander province.

No injuries were reported, and the Colombian government later offered a reward of nearly $800,000 for any information that would help catch the perpetrators.

The attack came amid mounting violence in Colombia, which is home to several armed groups. Colombian observer group Indepaz said during the weekend that 45 massacres – the killing of three or more people in a single event – have been recorded so far this year.

Authorities often blame armed groups – including dissidents who rejected a 2016 peace deal between the government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels – for acts of violence.

Colombia’s President Ivan Duque speaks during an interview in Bogota in March [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

The country also has been rocked by mass anti-government protests since April, when a tax reform proposal was rejected as disproportionately harming the country’s middle and working classes.

Colombian police have been accused of committing “egregious” abuses in their efforts to quell the demonstrations, drawing criticism from rights groups and other observers. Dozens of people are believed to have been killed in the protests.

In its statement, the White House said Biden in his call with Duque also “voiced support for the rights of peaceful protestors, underscored that law enforcement must be held to the highest standards of accountability, and condemned wanton acts of violence and vandalism”.

The US president “reaffirmed the enduring partnership between the United States and Colombia”, the statement said, while also pledging to donate 2.5 million coronavirus vaccines.

Like other countries in Latin America, Colombia is currently experiencing another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The nation has registered over 4.15 million cases and more than 104,600 deaths due to the virus to date, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

A poll last month found that Duque was the least popular president in Colombia’s history, with 76 percent of respondents saying they disapproved of his record.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies