After GOP endorsement, ambassador asks Colombian lawmakers to stay out of U.S. election

Alex Daugherty, Michael Wilner, Bianca Padró Ocasio
·4 min read

In the final weeks before Election Day, Colombian politicians have popped up in South Florida politics, offering messages of support on social media for Republican candidates like President Donald Trump and Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Steve Bovo.

But on Monday, the U.S. ambassador in Bogotá sent a message via Twitter: Colombian politicians should stay out of U.S. elections.

The tweet came after Republican congressional candidate Maria Elvira Salazar posted a video on Sunday of her on a video call accepting the endorsement of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.

“Thank you, Álvaro Uribe, for your endorsement and support,” Salazar, a former TV journalist, posted on her Instagram page, just over a week before Election Day. She is running to unseat incumbent Miami Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala.

Hours after Salazar’s video, U.S Ambassador to Colombia Philip S. Goldberg tweeted from the embassy’s official account.

“The success of U.S.-COL relations over many years has been based on bipartisan support,” Goldberg tweeted. “I urge all Colombian politicians to refrain from involvement in U.S. elections.”

A State Department spokesperson did not respond when asked if Goldberg’s tweet was related to Salazar’s video.

Salazar and Shalala are seeking to represent Florida’s 27th Congressional District, a majority Latino seat in Miami-Dade County where Colombian voters make up a significant slice of the electorate. Salazar, a former TV journalist who lists interviewing Uribe as a career accomplishment on her campaign website, has frequently appeared in videos with Juan David Vélez, a dual U.S.-Colombian citizen and member of the Colombian House of Representatives who represents Colombians abroad.

Maria Elvira Salazar in 2018.
Maria Elvira Salazar in 2018.

But Sunday’s Instagram post was the first time Salazar had publicly embraced Uribe while she’s been a congressional candidate. Uribe led Colombia from 2002 to 2010 and is a favorite of Colombian Trump supporters in the United States. Two weeks ago, Uribe was released from house arrest, and the news was praised by Vice President Mike Pence during a campaign rally.

“When a great hero of freedom, former President Álvaro Uribe, was placed under house arrest, President Trump and our administration called on the Colombian judiciary to release this heroic champion of freedom and earlier this week we learned that President Uribe is free,” Pence said on Oct. 15.

Uribe, a controversial figure in Colombia who is beloved by some for fighting the far-left guerrilla movement FARC but accused of human rights abuses by others, remains under investigation by the Colombian Supreme Court for witness tampering.

“Maria Elvira, we admire you, we appreciate you,” Uribe said on Salazar’s Instagram account. “We would like to see you in the United States Congress, we need you.”

Shalala’s campaign said she has support from Colombian-Americans and doesn’t need endorsements from foreign nationals.

“While Salazar gets endorsements from obscure foreign elected officials, Congresswoman Shalala has the support of Colombian leaders here in Miami-Dade,” Shalala campaign manager Raul Martinez said in a message.

Foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to U.S. political campaigns and cannot assume decision-making roles in campaigns, but are allowed to volunteer and offer support for candidates, so Uribe’s endorsement doesn’t violate U.S. election laws.

But Democrats on Monday warned that Colombian lawmakers should refrain from commenting on U.S politics, citing the long, bipartisan relationship between the two countries on fighting the war on drugs and support from Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. for Colombian foreign aid.

“Colombian politicians would be better served seeking to resolve the challenges of their country than interfering in the politics of the United States,” New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez said on a Colombians for Joe Biden press call.

Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego said the pro-Trump positions of some Colombian lawmakers will make it harder for some Democrats in Washington to support foreign aid to Colombia. Colombia is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in Latin America.

“When we have some of these more radical members of congress [from Colombia] trying to interfere in this election, it makes it more difficult to get some of our members to support aid for Colombia,” Gallego said.

Frank Mora, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere under President Barack Obama, said Salazar is courting foreign politicians to endorse her in order to help her election chances. Shalala is the favorite for reelection in a district that voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump by nearly 20% in 2016.

Maria Elvira is...seeking it because she thinks she needs the Colombian-American vote to win the election,” Mora said. “It may not be against the law but it’s breaking down the international norm that had been established in the United States since the end of the Cold War.”

When asked what she thought of the message from the U.S. Embassy hours after appearing with Uribe, Salazar said she was happy to have Uribe’s support.

“President Uribe worked with both Presidents Bush and Obama to advance freedom and fight socialism,” Salazar said in an email. “Our Colombian community in Miami is incredibly important to continuing that fight, and I appreciate and am honored to have his support.”