By David Vergun / Department Of Defense / Edited by the Diálogo staff February 14, 2020 U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Colombia is the United States’ “closest partner in Latin America,” and that he looks forward to strengthening their defense relationship even more.Esper welcomed Colombia’s Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo to the Pentagon on February 7. Following the meeting, the two held a press briefing to discuss areas of cooperation between both nations.Esper highlighted the two nations’ shared, long, and rich history of cooperation around the world, including during the Korean War when Colombia deployed troops in support of the United Nations-led military effort to protect South Korea. Colombia, Ester continued, has also participated for decades in the multinational force and observers who are keeping the peace in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.The defense relationship was on display when Colombia hosted a joint army airborne exercise in January, he added. Esper said he and Trujillo would discuss more opportunities for future multilateral exercises in the region.Key to security in the region is resolving the crisis in Venezuela, where the Nicolás Maduro regime continues to violate its own people’s human rights, the secretary said.Terrorists, illicit trafficking groups, and unwelcome foreign influence exacerbate the situation, Esper said, adding that the U.S. and other nations are seeking a peaceful transition to democracy in Venezuela.“We are grateful for everything Colombia has done to assist Venezuelans fleeing Maduro’s oppression,” Esper said.The U.S. is also working with Colombia to curb cocaine production and trafficking. Esper noted an increase in illicit drugs eradication in 2019. He said the pace of that work continues this year.Esper said he also met with leaders of the U.S. Coast Guard to discuss how, in cooperation with the U.S. Defense Department, to support Colombia and other nations in counter-narcotics activity.Esper congratulated Trujillo and Colombia for becoming NATO’s first Latin American global partner in 2018. “This was a critical step toward improving your interoperability with the alliance and increasing your participation in exercises and military education. Meanwhile, NATO will greatly benefit from your experiences in counterterrorism and other military activities.”Trujillo thanked U.S. and Colombian service members and police for putting their lives on the line. “They are all heroes, and we owe them our eternal gratitude for providing the security that allows us to build and maintain our nations’ democratic values, freedom and human rights.”“The United States is Colombia’s most important and strategic partner,” the defense minister said. “The bilateral Colombia-U.S. relationship has historically been characterized by strong ties of friendship and cooperation on many fronts.”Trujillo said he shares with the U.S. the hope for a rapid transition to democracy in Venezuela, the eradication of illicit crops, and ending terrorism. He added that he looks forward to even more cooperation between the two nations’ militaries.