SEMANA/Cover story | 1/20/2009 12:00:00 AM
Colombia- U.S. relations: Days of anguish
The Uribe government fearfully awaits Barack Obama, who thinks quite differently from the Bush administration.
For Bush, “Uribe is a phenomenal man for the government. The future will always be bright in a country if it continues to have men as brilliant as Álvaro Uribe.” Such was the emotion of the Colombian government with the medal that that same night they bestowed the Order of San Carlos on the departing officials Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutérrrez and Trade Representative Susan Schwab.
Meanwhile, in response to questions about Colombia during a her Senate confirmation hearing, Clinton described relations with Colombia as “dynamic and complex” but not as “excellent.” Neither did she call the country “our most important ally in the region,” a label that became common in the Bush era.
Uribe and Foreign Relations Minister Jaime Bermúdez repeat time and time again that nothing will change with the arrival of the Democrats in the White House, that U.S. politics is “bipartisan.” However, one week before the inauguration of the new president of the United States, only one official of the future administration opened up a space in his agenda in order to meet with Uribe. That was Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was the only member of the Bush cabinet to be retained by Obama, and who is not even a Democrat.
Perhaps most worrisome for the Uribe administration, who risked everything for the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), is Clinton’s comment that the United States still can have a productive relationship with Colombia even without the agreement’s approval. It is a diametrically opposed position to that of Bush, who up until the last days of his administration used all means possible to get the U.S. Congress to vote for the trade agreement.
Clinton also explained why the Obama government for the time being opposes pushing the approval of the FTA. “The ongoing violence and impunity in Colombia against workers and other civic leaders make it impossible to guarantee the protection of trade union rights in Colombia today. Colombia must improve its efforts.” Something similar was said that same day by seven human rights NGO, headed by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in a letter in which they opposed the bestowing of the medal on the Colombian president. The similarities of the NGO statement with that of Clinton’s speech is everything but a coincidence. It is proof that the NGO who so tormented the president will have a lot of muscle in the next four years.
Human rights will be a top priority in the Obama agenda, perhaps like never before. All cooperation with the United States- Plan Colombia, the FTA, etc.- will depend on how the Obama administration and the majority Democratic Congress interpret the compliance or not of the respect for human rights on behalf of the Colombian government and the armed forces. In other words, there will be more interference in internal affairs. It will be a double dose of unwanted medicine for Colombia.
Perhaps that is why, when they asked Uribe what he thought of the last Human Rights Watch report which severely criticized the government in the field of human rights, the ever talkative leader answered, “Another question, guys.”