Around the world Barack Obama has become an unlikely star, from Kenya, where
business is booming by printing shirts with Obama’s photos, to Japan
where the town that bears his name is in a full blown party celebration
to Turbaco, Bolivar where former mayor Silvio Carrasquilla can look back on a successful campaign.
Colombian opposition Senator Piedad Córdoba must be thrilled and hoping
that the end of eight years of U.S. neo-liberalism will be replaced by
a more progressive President who, according to her, already has an alternative peace plan ready for Colombia.
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and the hawks in his cabinet may, nonetheless, still
feel some pressure from Obama. They have enjoyed an almost unconditional support
from Uncle Sam and the American tax payer which, definitely after warnings made by U.S. ambassador to Bogotá William Brownfield, may be diminished if not cut completely.
The change won’t be because the change of ideology of the U.S. President though.
has demonstrated that the US foreign policy does not change
dramatically, even when new blood takes over the oval office. Kennedy
approved the ‘bay of pigs‘
fiasco immediately after his inauguration. Even in domestic policy
there are not radical changes either. The US government can be
described as a gringo seated on a sofa. Regardless of what hand is at
the helm there is just so much distance an arm can cover either to the
right or to the left side of the sofa.
Latin America has not played a prominent part in the current US
foreign policy agenda. With the history of overthrowing democratically
elected governments in Latin America and supporting ruthless
governments (Colombia?) the US has been behaving fairly well over the
past few years. Its war on terror was not fought in Latin America.
Events in Venezuela in 2002 and Bolivia in 2008
corroborate how sloppy they’ve become. Even in crucial diplomatic
developments, such as the naval exercise between Venezuela and Russia,
the US has not been actively moving its propaganda machine. Another
sign that Latin America may become a struggling ground between
mini-hegemons seeking domination.
Things will change in U.S. foreign policy in Latin America and
Colombia, but it will not be because the news President is a Democrat.
It will be because the U.S. is close to bankrupt and needs to adopt
rigid measures to avoid a worsening of the financial crisis.
The human rights violations like the ones that have come to light
over the past few weeks would be as acceptable or unacceptable for any
president no matter his political background. What matters is that the
U.S. simply no longer has the money to support Plan Colombia and
indirectly Álvaro Uribe’s “Democratic Security” policy.
If the changes don’t come from Washington, they will have to come from Bogotá.
Relations with the White House may get somewhat thorny, especially with the latest reports of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on the situation that Uribe so far has masterfully arranged. Actions from Colombia towards Washington would become even more obsequious.
Uribe still has over two years left in the government and without tangible aid from the gringos relations would become even more explosive in the region, especially with the looming world depression and Colombia’s adorable neighboring governments.
Some changes in Uribe government can be expected so he can win back some support from Obama’s administration. We should expect less sombreros volteados and demonstration of horse mounting from Uribe to the gringos and instead more substantial policies that manifest his desire to help the poorest of society.
It is difficult when the desire is not there, but Uribe’s flip-flopping has been legendary so nothing can be too far fetched, especially in the land of magic realism.
Fundamental changes in US policies towards Colombia may not be in the agenda. However, changes from Uribe’s government may be more realistic. Uribe’s ego wouldn’t want to leave the Casa de Nari with an approval rating as low as Bush’s. Radical changes have started to take place as the recent developments in the armed forces demonstrate.
Let’s hope that Obama lives up to his hype.
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian studies psychology and political economy at the University of Hong Kong