Obama will make his first trip south of the U.S. border as president
when he visits Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas in
mid-April. The Summit will provide the first clear signs of the way
in which the Obama administration will handle hemispheric relations.
the current ideological and political shifts in Latin America, the
rapid-transforming nature of the involvement of the United States in
the region, and the need to reconstruct damaged alliances, it is
absolutely crucial that Obama accepts a bilateral meeting with Álvaro
Uribe, and highlights the importance of Colombian-U.S. relations
within the context of the hemispheric agenda.
Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago will bring together the
top leaders of 34 nations in the hemisphere. For the first time since
a meeting of its kind has been held, all of those leaders will have
been democratically elected. The exception to the rule is Cuba, which
nonetheless won’t be in attendance as it is not an active
member of the Organization of American States.
administration will try to diverge attention from Cuba’s
absence by announcing to lift the restrictions for Cuban-Americans to
travel or send money to the island.
temporarily shifting the attention away from the adversarial
relationship with Cuba does not change the fact that Barack Obama
will have to share a closed-door retreat with Hugo Chávez, Evo
Morales, and Rafael Correa, amongst others.
United States does not come into the Summit with the best of
credentials, particularly after President Bush’s appearance in
the previous meeting in Chile was widely perceived as a diplomatic
disaster, and also when the global economic crisis that began in the
U.S. has had a resounding effect in the region.
focusing on the damaged relationships between the United States and
nations that have been hostile, at least in their rhetoric, to the
“empire of the north” is not truly as relevant as looking
at the damaged relations between the United States and nations that
have prided themselves to be allies of the North American superpower,
as is the case of Colombia.
Colombia has remained one of the most loyal allies of the United
States in the Americas. After the impasse with then-President Samper
in the mid-1990s, in which a political scandal led the U.S.
government to deny him entry, Colombia has turned around to become
the embodiment of the effects of fostering strategic partnerships
with the United States.
came the close ties between Andrés Pastrana and Bill Clinton,
which led to the institutionalization of Plan Colombia, connecting
both nations economically, ideologically, technologically, and
honeymoon continued between Álvaro Uribe and George Bush,
under whose mandate aid to Colombia and collaborations of all types
were increased and programmed for the future.
things have changed dramatically since Obama became president, and
the bilateral relations between the two countries has been treated as
highly insignificant. At the core of the tensions is the Free Trade
Agreement promoted under George W. Bush, and widely supported by the
Republican party, but opposed by the Obama administration and the
Colombia seems to be caught in this limbo, in which its state is not
dire or critical enough in order for aid to be considered a
necessity, but it is also not well enough for the country to be
regarded as a crucial economic partner. In that sense, Colombia seems
to be trapped in this middle zone in which the United States tries to
foster the bilateral relations to benefit from the potential
positives, but will make sure to quickly frown upon those matters
that become obstacles for approving things such as the Free Trade
is not Iraq, but is also not Britain, and placing it where it belongs
in the middle of that spectrum seems to have become a challenge for
the U.S. government.
Obama may arrive to Trinidad and Tobago with a message of willingness
to engage in cordial relations with all the nations in the region,
and while he may focus on trying to improve the souring relations
with countries like Bolivia or Nicaragua, the true test lies on how
the United States will treat its most important allies.
nations that are reconsidering the high-level of engagement they have
with the United States can’t simply be persuaded that
maintaining that engagement will be beneficial to them. Those nations
will want to see the pragmatic effects of continuing to follow the
formerly undisputable leader. They’ll turn to all those other
nations that currently claim to be in good spirits with the U.S. and
will evaluate the benefits of those relations. There is no better
example than Colombia.
turn to Colombia they will find a country that has publicly pledged
its alliance with the United States, even at the expense of
compromising relations with its neighbors.
find a country in which the president and top cabinet members are
constantly going to Washington to speak with individuals in both
sides of the U.S. political spectrum, submitting themselves to fierce
find a nation willing to engage in military partnerships, from
continuing to pledge troops for the U.S. war in Afghanistan, to
considering the creation of U.S. military hubs in the country.
they will also find that Colombia has had to struggle for years to
get a Free Trade Agreement approved, and that the nation is facing
imminent reductions in aid for military and anti-narcotic operations.
More shockingly, they will find that many U.S. political figures are
quick to speak badly about Colombia.
those nations look at Colombia, they’ll have to ask, why? Why
is Colombia being treated so poorly if it has committed itself so
blindly? Why is the United States not standing behind one of its
strongest allies? Why, if that’s how Colombia is treated, is it
worth it for any other nation to pledge their commitment to U.S.
has the fourth largest population in Latin America. It has abundant
natural resources and potential for the development of energy
solutions. It is located in a strategic geographical position, and
for what is worth, it has a government that has the most positive of
attitudes towards the United States.
region that is quickly becoming unfriendly, President Obama should
remember who his friends are in the first place. The least he can do
is sit down with Uribe and highlight some of Colombia’s