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The state of US-Colombia relations

Is President Obama cooling to a traditional American ally?

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) speaks with Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe during a work lunch at the 5th Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, April 18, 2009. (Reuters)

BOGOTA — Last week, a government press release celebrated the news that Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe and U.S. President Barack Obama were arranging a private meeting at the Summit of the Americas. But the news coming out of the press office on Friday squashed the excitement: The meeting was off.

Whether a snub to Colombia or a simple matter of logistic impossibility, the cancelled meeting is one more signal of a shift in the traditionally close and special relationship between the U.S. and Colombia.

“I think it’s an indication that [Obama] wants to strengthen relationships with other countries, and I don’t think that Colombia is as fundamental to U.S. objectives in the region,” says John Lindsay-Poland of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a U.S. human rights group with programs in Colombia.

(Though it's not all bad news for Colombia. Here's the latest from the Summit of the Americas).

Under the Bush administration, Colombia was regarded as the U.S.’s strongest — and sometimes only — ally in Latin America. Uribe’s hard-line approach to governance and fighting Colombia’s war on terror and drugs was akin to Bush's policy. Since 2000, Colombia has received some $6 billion from the U.S. in anti-narcotics aid under Plan Colombia, most of it directed towards the military.

And while several analysts expect the United States to continue supporting Colombia, they say the Colombian government should brace for change.

“I don’t think we’ll see the same relationship as we had with Bush,” says Alvaro Camacho, a professor at the Institute of Political Studies and International Relations at the National University in Bogota. “Colombia will lose importance to the United States.”

Already, the Obama administration has reached out to re-engage the U.S. with the Latin America that exists beyond Colombia’s borders. Obama and several high-level officials have visited Mexico. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Chile and Costa Rica to meet with the heads of state of a host of Latin American countries. Colombia was not one of them.