SEMANA INTERNATIONAL | 11/5/2008 12:00:00 AM
Obama and Colombia
The election of Barack Obama was well-received by the Colombian people, but has left the proBush Uribe administration in a bind. By Alfonso Cuéllar, editor chief of SEMANA.
No Colombians are prouder than the six million members of its Colombian-African community. They feel Obama as if he was one of them. But they are not the only ones rejoicing: Colombians in all of walks of life are thrilled with Obama’s victory. He is the antithesis of the “Ugly American”, which, unfairly or not, George Bush symbolizes. Obama’s change message resonates in Colombia, even though no country in Latin America has received more aid from the US and has been more pampered by Bush in these eight years.
For many Colombians, Obama brings back memories of another young president, who promised a new future, a new frontier. John F. Kennedy is still beloved in Colombia, ever since his visit to Bogotá in 1961. He not only laid the foundations for Ciudad Kennedy, a today up and coming neighborhood of over 1.5 million people, but he lives on in the families of many Colombians: jhon (yes written this way) is a common name in Colombia.
Perhaps the only Colombians who aren’t exactly jumping up or down about Obama’s ascension to power are the members of President Alvaro Uribe’s administration. Although the Colombian government has already sent the perfunctory congratulations to the Democratic candidate and officials insist that nothing has changed, Obama was not Uribe’s first choice. Senator John McCain had promised to follow Bush’s policies towards Colombia to the letter. McCain’s antiterrorist speech could have been with written by Uribe. Obama and Vice-president elect Joseph Biden approach Colombia from a different angle.
Uribe has already had a taste of Democrats during these last two years of that party’s control of Congress. It hasn’t been pleasant- the Democrats have changed the emphasis of Plan Colombia and have held up the Colombian free trade agreement until “significant progress” is made in punishing those responsible for the deaths of union leaders and members. Obama reiterated this condition to Uribe in September and highlighted his concern in the third presidential debate with McCain.
For many years, the Uribe administration felt that it could manage its relationship with the Democrats via former president Bill Clinton, the leading architect of Plan Colombia. And when a year ago, all the pundits said that senator Hillary Clinton’s path to the White House was inevitable, it seemed like a reasonable strategy. Even last week, Uribe stressed in a radio interview that Colombia’s relationship with the US was bipartisan and provided as an example of this, his frequent meetings with Bill Clinton. However, the balance of power in the Democratic Party changed on November 4th- its Obama’s party now. Clinton’s influence will undoubtedly be much less.
Given the above scenario, the Colombian government faces a new playing field, where Obama and Biden’s concerns about Colombia– on human rights, on the FTA- are now front and center. The Bush’s war on terror era, which delighted Uribe and his team so much, has come to an end. RIP.