U.S. President Barack Obama and his Colombian counterpart Alvaro
Uribe will be discussing “security and development,” the White House
said in a statement prior to Uribe’s official visit to Washington.
According to Colombia’s Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez, “Commerce issues like the free trade agreement and all other bilateral
interests, such as questions about extradition, will be tackled.”
The visit is highly anticipated in Colombia after severe criticism by the Democratic majority in U.S. Congress and harsh words by Obama during his presidential campaign about Uribe’s human rights records.
The U.S. government previously said it wants Colombia to improve the security situation for labor rights workers before approving a free trade agreement with what many consider the U.S.’ staunchest ally in Latin America.
However, the current economic crisis seems to make the Obama administration more pragmatic and forces it to let the possible economic gains of a treaty weigh heavier. Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade Representative already was ordered to make progress on the deal together with Colombian diplomats.
Lobby groups and think tanks of both supporters and opponents have stepped up the number of publications to convince Obama to take their side.
Apart from the FTA, both Heads of State will discuss the continuation of Plan Colombia, the countries’ joint effort to battle Colombian coca production, Colombia’s Foreign Minister said.
The meeting will allow Uribe to show Obama “how we can be partners and work
with you in the region,” said Colombian ambassador to the U.S., Carolina Barco.
Obama’s possibly milder attitude towards Colombia does come at a time of growing criticism on Uribe about his allegedly aspired second re-election, the false positives scandal that implicates some thousand members of the Armed Forces in extrajudicial executions of more than a thousand civilians and the illegal wiretapping of opposition politicians, journalists, Supreme Court judges and even members of the Catholic Church and the UNHCR.
On Friday, U.S. human-rights group Human Rights Watch called on Obama to use
his meeting with Uribe “to demand that he respect human rights and remind him of
the important of acting in accordance with democratic principles.”