In a much-commented column in Sunday’s edition of El Tiempo, Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper, Enrique Santos, the paper’s editor, argues that the United States is “abandoning” Colombia amid worsening tensions with Venezuela.
If the mute behavior of a bloc [UNASUR] to which Colombia belongs is surprising in the face of President ChÃ¡vez’s wild insults, warlike threats and provocative acts, the attitude of our great ally to the north is nothing less than outrageous. Washington not only seeks to distance itself, but has sought to place both governments’ conduct on a sort of equal footing.
Citing a recent column by far-right U.S. commentator Patrick Buchanan, the normally measured Santos calls the Obama administration’s attitude an example of “the American way of abandonment.”
This petulant argument reveals a remarkable degree of insecurity among Colombia’s “political class.” It also ignores the following:
- An official U.S. government declaration taking Colombia’s side in its dispute with Venezuela would be nothing short of a major political gift to Hugo ChÃ¡vez. It would become the main theme of the Venezuelan president’s speeches for the next week, and it would make the situation even more volatile. The U.S. government would do well to remain silent on the subject and work – preferably with neighbors like Brazil – to ease tensions.
- The United States has already cast its lot with Colombia in a way that speaks louder than dozens of official statements from Washington. Only 3 1/2 weeks ago, the U.S. and Colombian governments signed a “defense cooperation agreement” that, in its vaguely worded language, can easily be interpreted as a commitment to help Colombia defend itself against “common threats.” (Santos does have a point, however, when he reminds readers that this agreement, and both governments’ poor handling of it, are what triggered the current tensions in the first place.)
- If the U.S. government’s embrace of Ãlvaro Uribe’s administration has loosened since George W. Bush left office, perhaps the explanation lies more clearly with para-politics, “false positives,” DAS wiretaps, “Agro Ingreso Seguro,” Uribe’s re-election drive, and other troubling and often unaddressed scandals and trends.
Let’s hope elite Colombian opinion recalls all three of these points before jumping to wild conclusions about the nature of the bilateral friendship. This isn’t high school, it is foreign policy toward an increasingly unstable region. The United States is still sitting at Colombia’s lunch table, but it is right not to take part in this particular food fight.