Colombia's worry: looser US ties
Officials visiting this week press for continued funding of an antidrug strategy and passage of a free-trade agreement.
Colombian officials are mounting a full-court diplomatic press in the United States this week as they seek to stave off a fall from the high-flying status their country achieved in Washington as a favored ally of the Bush administration.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Colombia was promoted as a Latin success story by President Bush but denigrated by human rights advocates and some members of Congress as a failed state. Now, it's likely to find itself far from center stage in a Washington grappling with the economic crisis and still finding its foreign-policy footing.
But at the same time, the senior Colombian officials here this week may find comfort in the hints of a more pragmatic foreign policy under President Obama – one that may not hold up a neighbor like Colombia as an example but won't dismiss it as a pariah, either.
"Before, you had President Bush touting Colombia as some kind of new Sweden, even as people in the human rights community and some in Congress said it was a South American Somalia – when of course Colombia is neither but is something different," says Michael Shifter, director of the Andean program at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. "Once he gets around to thinking about Colombia, I think President Obama will be more realistic about the situation there, and the Colombians will appreciate that."
Continued funding of the antidrug partnership called Plan Colombia is the goal of Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, who was meeting with officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, beginning Tuesday. The strategy has cost Washington nearly $6 billion over the past nine years, though with little impact on the flow of Colombian cocaine into the US, critics say.
Another priority Colombia has long sought is passage of a free-trade agreement that the Bush White House negotiated with the Colombian government of President Álvaro Uribe. Colombia's vice president, Francisco Santos, is crisscrossing the US to boost the trade pact's flagging fortunes.