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Is President Obama cooling to a traditional American ally?
In an op-ed published in newspapers across Latin America, Obama pledged to “renew and sustain a broader partnership between the United States and the hemisphere.”
Part of the shift is a matter of perspective.
Under the Bush administration, Colombia was seen as the “good guy” among a sea of leftist populist governments, says Michael Shifter, vice president of policy at the Washington-based Inter American Dialogue. “Obama doesn’t see the world as divided between friends and adversaries.” And that opens the field for engagement with a variety of Latin American countries.
Not only is Obama’s worldview expected to dilute attention paid towards Colombia, his pragmatism is also expected to do so. Despite the internal armed conflict that continues in Colombia, it has been replaced by Mexico as the most pressing security problem in the hemisphere. Brazil’s position as the region’s big economic power lends it strategic importance to the U.S.
“It’s not that Colombia is seen as unimportant, but I think this administration elevates those other two countries [Mexico and Brazil] in terms of what needs to be focused on,” says Shifter.
With Mexico now competing for U.S. anti-narcotics funding, “there will be a reduction in the support for Plan Colombia,” says Camacho. “The Colombian government will have to assume the costs.”
Camacho also expects a shift in drug policy from Obama’s administration, and the recent trend of assigning more anti-narcotic funding to development rather than military aid is expected to continue. “This is something Uribe will have to accept,” he says.
What support Colombia does receive from the U.S., analysts say, Uribe will have to work harder for it – largely due to the emphasis Obama’s administration places on human rights.
Obama and the Democrats have held up a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries — originally negotiated in 2006 as a Bush priority — due to concerns over Colombia’s human rights record and the targeted assassinations of trade union leaders.
“Colombia must improve its efforts," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee soon before she was sworn in, according to Reuters.
In Trinidad, Obama sent Trade Representative Ron Kirk to meet with Uribe to start discussions on how to move forward on the trade agreement. Uribe discussed these issues with Obama over lunch at the summit.
Analysts expect Obama to demand concrete progress on human rights in relation to the trade pact as well as military and anti-narcotic support. “Progress has been made but more will be necessary,” says Shifter.
Gustavo Duncan, a professor of political science at the University of Los Andes in Bogota, points to the challenges Uribe’s government faces. Scandals continue over links between his government and narco-financed paramilitaries. The military stands accused of a widespread practice of killing innocent civilians framed as combatants to increase body counts. Last month, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) announced the freezing of $72 million in aid until there are results in the investigation of several military officers.
“Because of all these issues,” says Duncan, Colombia's relationship with the U.S. “will be a lot more complicated for Uribe.”
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