FOREIGN POLICY | 1/25/2011 12:00:00 AM
Vice-President Angelino Garzón will be welcomed by senior officials of Obama’s administration. Relations improve, but not enough for the Free Trade Agreement to be ratified.
The visit of a Colombian Vice-President to Washington had never been of such magnitude. Garzón will be accompanied by his family and several advisers. He will be received by Vice-President Joe Biden, who speaks closely to Obama’s ear; he will meet with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and would talk with Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor, and with labor unions. These last two meetings are crucial: if the FTA is in the freezer is because the complaints of the labor unions, the Democrats and the NGOs who claim that Colombia is not protecting the workers, and give horrifying statistics according to which in 2010, there were 44 trade unionists murdered. The advantage is that Garzón can respond based on the moral authority that gives him his past as a union leader, something that Francisco Santos, former Vice-President, did not have.
The Vice-President’s trip comes amid a series of visits by American dignitaries to see how things are going in Colombia. Recently, Senator John McCain and drug czar Gil Kerlokowske came. But in early January who visited the country was the democrat Sander Levin, the congressman more reluctant to FTA approval in the House of Representatives. Levin, who could not stand Uribe, left the country “amazed” with Santos, as he said in Washington, even though the President told him that “Colombia is exhausted” to request for the ratification and is not willing to keep begging. In addition to that, in a few weeks other big shots of the Senate will come: Democrats Max Baucus and Patrick Leahy, and perhaps the Republican Richard Lugar. If the Republicans are majority in the House of Representatives, the Senate remains in Democratic control.
The attention that the Americans are giving to Colombia can be explained, according to Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a prestigious think tank in Washington, because “here we receive good news about the reforms proposed in Colombia and the idea of Santos of becoming a regional leader”. José Miguel Vivanco, director for the Americas of the NGO Human Rights Watch, puts Uribe in the equation: “The fact that Santos will be open to recognize the serious failures in human rights, unlike Uribe -considered an obstacle by liberal sectors in Washington given his authoritarian style-, has generated interest here to talk with the current government, and even discuss the requirements for ratifying the FTA, on behalf of the Democrats in the United States”. Vivanco sent a letter to Garzón before his trip, establishing his position on the human rights situation in Colombia.
Does this mean that Obama is all decided to send to the Congress, in the near future, the FTA, which was signed more than four years ago, to submit it for consideration? Not necessarily. Both his spokesman, Robert Gibbs, and the high Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, have shown signs on the contrary. The worst thing is that Plan Colombia, for which the American Legislature allocated 621 million dollars last year, can also be cut. Seriously. But in any case, Washington is paying more attention to Colombia, and that usually is not bad news.