The administration of incoming Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has many things in its favor as it tries to win over skeptical U.S. Democrats and reframe its relationship with the United States. After inheriting a drastically more secure country from outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, Santos will be able to reframe the conversation with the U.S. to focus more on human rights and commerce, according to an analysis by El Tiempo on Monday.
However, despite Santos’ relationship with the U.S. starting off on a positive note, with the passing of a resolution in the U.S. Congress congratulating Santos on his election, Mauricio Reina, technical secretary for Colombia’s Mission for Foreign Policy, says that “The terrain (U.S.) is not adverse (to Santos), but it is not completely favorable. We must rebuild relationships and cultivate a new agenda to win over the Democratic Party.”
Some of the key factors working in Santos’ favor for building effective ties with the U.S., El Tiempo noted, include his history living and studying in the country, the contacts he’s built from his time there and his term as Colombia’s defense minister, his relationship with James Carville, a political adviser he worked with during his election campaign who is very close to the Democratic Party, and most importantly, his vice president, Angelino Garzon.
“What better than to have Angelino Garzon as vice president, a man who hails from the unions, who is also an expert in human rights,” Leonardo Carvajal, professor and investigator from the Universidad Externado, commented.
One of the principle concerns of the U.S. Democrats has been Colombia’s human rights record, which has put an effective halt on the passage of the pending free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries, originally signed by former President George W. Bush, but put on hold after the Democrats gained a congressional majority in 2007. Having a vice president like Garzon could help assuage U.S. concerns over Colombia’s human rights conditions and pressure the U.S. to move forward with the FTA.
On Friday, VP-elect Garzon said that the U.S. was in “ethical and moral debt to the government of Colombia” due to the long-delayed free trade agreement.
Reina, from the Mission for Foreign Policy Mission, added that another factor in play for Colombia is that with the U.S. urgently paying attention to Mexico, as the Latin American country’s security situation deteriorates, Colombia will be able refocus its relationship with the U.S. towards non-security related issues, such as trade and human rights.
Regardless of how well positioned the Santos administration is to build on the already strong relationship between Colombia and the U.S., according to El Tiempo, moving the relationship forward will require “patience,” due to U.S. congressional elections this November.
On Friday, U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez reiterated calls for patience while giving further guarantees that FTA would pass.
“The Obama administration understands the importance of ratifying the deal, and is confident it will be,” Sanchez said from Bogota, explaining that “FTAs always generate much debate [in U.S. Congress]. That is what happened in the case with the Chilean FTA, which took nine years to approve. We need to let the discussion continue.”