The conversation amongst Washington insiders this week revolved around the everything-but-confirmed appointment of Hillary Clinton as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State. Senator Clinton’s new job puts her at the forefront of President Obama’s foreign policy, and thus, the relation between his administration and Colombia.
Colombia has to consider ways in which to frame its communication with the Obama administration keeping in mind that Hillary Clinton will be the person at the other side of the table in the dialogue between the two nations.
While Senator Clinton has become a political and public persona of her own, beyond her husband’s own persona, and while her significant and historic accomplishments as a Senator and as a presidential candidate have legitimized her political authority and her agenda, it would be naive to disregard the fact that she is married to the former President of the United States.
The world has changed dramatically since Bill Clinton was in office, but his administration provides significant insights to his worldview, and the conversations he will have with Secretary Clinton about foreign policy.
President Clinton’s potential influence on his wife is great news for Colombia. Bill Clinton is widely believed to be a strong ally of Colombia, and his commitment to supporting a strong bond between the two countries defined the relation during the Clinton years.
The upcoming announcement of Senator Clinton as Secretary of State has the potential to revive the communication between Colombia and the Democrats, who will dominate the executive and legislative branches. Furthermore, from the Secretary of State position, it is in Senator Clinton’s interest to foster the relationship with a strategic foreign ally.
Senator Clinton’s appointment is not the only one that may prove to be favorable to Colombia. The election of Joe Biden as vice-President is also crucial to the future of bilateral relations. Biden is regarded as a foreign policy expert, and has visited Colombia in the past, having a better sense of the country’s reality than other elected officials.
Additionally, the rumored announcement of Gov. Bill Richardson as Secretary of Commerce might prove to be essential for the success of bilateral dialogue regarding trade and economic alliances. Gov. Richardson’s knowledge of foreign policy, and his expertise on Latin American issues is certain to position the region strategically in discussions regarding international commerce.
As President Uribe attended the APEC meeting in Lima this week, he met with the leaders of nations like Russia and Vietnam. He signed a trade agreement treaty with Canada and China and agreed to talk serious trade with Japan. Colombia’s diversification of its international partnerships is smart and reflects the Uribe administration’s understanding of the changing dynamics of the international system.
Top Obama administration officials must recognize that the United States is not the only international power vying for the attention and potential benefits of relations with Latin American nations. Colombia, as the current strongest ally of the United States in the region, ought to be regarded as an important part of any U.S. strategy to strengthen traditional and public diplomacy efforts in Latin America.
As Hillary Clinton prepares to take her role as Secretary of State, Colombia must maximize the potential benefits from having Clinton, and other officials, as part of the Obama cabinet. Senator Clinton ought to encourage the successful dialogue between the two countries, including serious consideration of a visit to Colombia.
It should not be too long before President Uribe gets to say “Welcome to Colombia, Secretary Clinton.”
Author Felipe Estefan is Colombian and studies media and international relations in New York