Colombia recognizes Palestine as a sovereign state
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Colombia recognizes Palestine as a sovereign state

Foreign Ministry announces former president Juan Manuel Santos made decision day after Netanyahu canceled trip to the country

This photo released by Colombia's presidential press office shows Colombia's outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos, center, welcoming newly sworn-in President Ivan Duque at the presidential palace after his inauguration ceremony in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018. (Colombia's presidential press office 
 via AP)
This photo released by Colombia's presidential press office shows Colombia's outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos, center, welcoming newly sworn-in President Ivan Duque at the presidential palace after his inauguration ceremony in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018. (Colombia's presidential press office via AP)

Colombia recognized Palestine as a sovereign state in the days before new President Ivan Duque took office, according to a letter from the foreign ministry made public on Wednesday.

“I would like to inform you that in the name of the government of Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos has decided to recognize Palestine as a free, independent and sovereign state,” said the letter dated August 3.

On August 2 Prime Minister Netanyahu unexpectedly canceled a planned trip to Colombia, citing the volatile security situation in Israel’s south.

Netanyahu was set to attend the inauguration of Duque, who took office on Tuesday, succeeding the unpopular center-right president Santos.

Duque, of the right-wing Democratic Center party, has said he wanted to improve his country’s good relations with Israel, even openly mulling the idea of moving his country’s embassy to Jerusalem.

His government said it would study the implications of Santos’s last-minute decision on the Palestinians, but acknowledged that it was legal.

The United States doesn’t recognize a Palestinian state, and Colombia long refrained from doing so due its close ties with Washington. But in recent years Colombia has sought to chart a more independent foreign policy that has included calling for changes to US-backed anti-narcotics policies.

More than 130 countries have already recognize a Palestinian state, though none exists yet on the ground. Colombia is the last country in South American to recognize Palestinian statehood.

The new president has promised a harder line against drug trafficking that includes bringing back the aerial fumigation of coca crops, a policy that was stopped by Santos’ administration three years ago over health concerns, but is supported by the US government. Cocaine production has doubled in Colombia over the past two years, according to US government estimates.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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