Barack, we are still here

President-elect Barack Obama is entering the presidency with an enormous amount of political leverage resulting from his landslide electoral victory in November, and from his high level of public support. Yet, in a world of 24-hour media, he has barely been given the chance to wait until Inauguration to start proposing and acting upon policy. Instead, Obama and his transition team have had to start working, even before he is sworn into office, most recently and prominently, to support an economic stimulus plan.

The state of the economy in the United States, the President-elect has said, is quite dire and requiring urgent care. The global economic crisis and the enormous impact it is having on the lives of American citizens will greatly affect Obama’s ability to enact domestic and foreign policy. This is especially true for policies that require significant spending. Plan Colombia and the substantial sum that the United States gives in aid to Colombia are no exception.

With the economy in the United States currently in the Intensive Care Unit, it would be no surprise that the President-elect’s administration and the newly instituted Congress look at major cuts on foreign aid. Colombia is one of the top grantees, and with the Democrats, who seem to be tilting more towards supporting social initiatives rather than armed conflict strategies, dominating both the legislative and executive branches, that aid may very well be in serious trouble.

On the foreign policy front, things are no different. Not only is the United States fighting two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but in recent months, it has also had to start worrying significantly about the prospects in both Pakistan and Iran. Furthermore, the current conflict in Gaza has once again brought the Middle East to the forefront of foreign policy matters. All of that is without mentioning the pressing humanitarian situation in Sudan, the global food crisis, the urgency of environmental issues, and the rise of China. In a world full of hot spots, how can Colombia stay on the horizon?

Latin America ought to always be high up on the priority list for the United States, if nothing else, for its geographic proximity and its potential for strategic economic partnerships. Colombia, as one of its closest allies, must be at the core of any US efforts to strengthen the ties with the neighboring region.

Nonetheless, the challenges highlighted above imply that Colombia will need to think about innovative ways to stay on the radar of both the President-elect and the American congress. Such a dynamic may also imply that Colombia must be willing to approach the process with flexibility and openness to new possibilities. If the path towards maintaining a substantial influx of aid is focusing the funds less so towards military operations, and more so towards social programs, that might just be the best deal Colombia is able to get.

Author Felipe Estefan is Colombian and studies media and international relations in New York

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