How Colombia's Petro, a former leftwing guerrilla, found his opening in Washington

Guillermo Luces, a former Argentine diplomat, said Biden's decision was a "wise" one.The Biden administration has recognized Venezuelan President Juan Guaido as the legitimate leader of the country, a move Guillermo Luces, a former Argentine diplomat, called "wise."

How Colombia's Petro, a former leftwing guerrilla, found his opening in Washington

Bogota, Colombia CNN

A constant rule of hospitality is to avoid awkward conversations at all costs, at least until dessert time. You don't wish to leave a bad impression on your guests before the dinner.

In politics, the same rule applies. Leaders often look for 'common grounds' before taking a confrontational approach.

The two men, who are both former left-wing guerrillas and critics of US foreign engagement, did exactly that last week when they welcomed their Colombian counterpart Gustavo Petro to the White House. They highlighted their similarities and brushed over any differences.

A series of diplomatic missions highlighted Latin America's strategic importance. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov toured Brazil, Venezuela and Nicaragua, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed for support in Mexico's parliamentary chamber.

Brazil's regional powerhouse, Luiz inacio Lula da So, has been urging a coalition non-aligned countries to solve the Ukraine crisis and courting Beijing for economic partnership.

What was the best common ground that President Biden as host could find with his guest? Climate change.

The Biden administration pledged up to $500,000,000 -- subject to congressional approval -- for an international Amazon Conservation Fund set up by Brazil in 2008. This fund had not attracted much interest or donations in recent years.

The Amazon rainforest is spread across nine countries in South America, so its impact has a truly regional aspect. Biden's pledge is ten times more than what the US committed just two months earlier, when Lula was in the Oval Office.

The announcement shows that the Biden Administration is paying attention to the messages from Latin America where the fight against climate change has been a top priority for governments of both the left and the right. Climate change is a major issue for leaders from Latin America at international summits.

A 'pendulum' strategy

The funding pledge coincides with Petro's trip, and also suggests that the Colombian president has found an opening in the competition between superpowers.

Colombia, like many other countries in Latin America has seen significant investments by Chinese companies over the past few years. These investments have mainly been in the mining and transport sectors. The Chinese consortium is building the subway system for Colombia's capital Bogota, one of the most important infrastructure projects that the country will undertake in the next 20 years.

In January, the Russian ambassador to Colombia thanked Petro for its decision to not send any Russian-made arms owned by Colombia to Ukraine's armed forces. This is a similar stance to other countries in this region, such as Argentina Brazil and Peru, who have refused to join the coalition of Western power supporting Ukraine.

Vicente Torrijos is a professor at the Colombian War College who teaches international studies.

Torrijos, a CNN correspondent, said: 'That Colombia can interact with Moscow and Beijing without losing its benefits as a NATO strategic ally, is a very practical vision of geopolitics on the international stage.

Petro called on Biden Thursday to launch "a new Alliance for Progress" to promote economic growth through cleaner energy in America, evoking the 1960s programs led by former US president John F. Kennedy.

Petro's ambitions would be aligned with his desire to become a global voice for climate change.

Petro has aspirations to lead the new phase in Latin America's Geopolitics. Lula had his moment and [Mexican President Andres Manuel] Lopez Obrador was on his way out. On the other hand, [Chilean president Gabriel] Boric, who is young and immature, is also on the same side. So Petro sees there is a leadership void in the Americas' progressive front and aspires fill it.

Biden also can boast a significant concession from his recent meeting with Petro who, until this point, had refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The joint statement, signed by both leaders, last week, 'condemned authoritarianism in all its forms and aggression around the world including Russia's violation against international law of Ukraine's territorial Integrity'. This is a significant change from Petro's usual discourse.

Sergio Guzman is the director of Colombia Risk Analysis in Bogota, a political consulting firm.

The Biden administration was willing to acknowledge him as a leader in Latin America and an international figure. Guzman said that in this sense, condemning war against Ukraine was not too expensive.