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| 11/13/2009 12:00:00 AM

Colombia's Increasing Hemispheric Isolation

These days, President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia has few friends in the hemisphere, and Washington is not explicit in supporting a feisty president, whose followers seek his extension for a third term in office.

Colombia's Increasing Hemispheric Isolation Colombia's Increasing Hemispheric Isolation
Colombia (45 million people) has a potential border war with Venezuela (26.4 million people), friction over guerilla encampments in neighboring Ecuador, rejection of the Bank of the South and sullen expressions of friendship from Brazil. What are the reasons for this isolation, and what might the Obama administration do to remedy the situation?
 
President Uribe stepped up to offer the U.S. Department of Defense access to seven of its airbases in Colombia when the 1999 agreement to base aircraft at Eloy Alfaro airbase outside Manta, Ecuador ended in June 2009. The agreement was a logical extension of strong U.S. and Colombian ties to counter narcotics shipments, but the manner in which the Colombian offer was communicated to both a domestic and South American audience was clumsy at best. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a visit to the region and then cancelled it. Colombia’s Foreign Minister, Jaime Bermudez announced that "we are deepening cooperation agreements that already exist in our common struggle against narcotrafficking and terrorism" before the agreement had been finalized. This created a degree of uncertainty and opportunities for heightened opposition within Colombian political circles. In response to questions about the pending agreement, the U.S. Embassy in Bogota declined to comment, citing the sensitivity of the issue. It raised doubts as to whether the Obama administration would remain as firm in its commitment to Colombia counternarcotics and counterinsurgency strategy as its predecessor. For some in the hemisphere, the muddled message suggested a degree of doubt in Washington's commitment to the Uribe government. However, a strong U.S. commitment was reiterated to Colombian Vice President Santos when he visited Washington this week. In the meantime, hemispheric neighbors failed to move beyond the announcement, giving scope to those who seek to distance themselves from Washington.

The result of the announcement was strident "anti-gringoism", which played into the hands of Hugo Chavez and his colleagues within ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the America. It also left Brazilian President Lula, the founder of the South American Defense Force that deliberately excluded U.S. participation, irritated that he had not been consulted sufficiently ahead of time. Good neighborliness surely indicated a formal "heads up" before U.S. aircraft acquired landing rights at airbases on Brazil's northern border. Uribe visited all countries in South America to explain the nature of the access agreement, but he did not receive any public endorsements. Only Mexico appreciated Colombia's dilemma.
 
Read more here.
 
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