I’ll continue the postings about the paramilitary peace talks in a day or two. First, here’s an English translation of the op-ed that ran today in El Espectador (the Spanish is here).
Bush and Uribe make their shopping list
By Adam Isacson
Colombia – and not Mexico, as was the case four years ago – will be the first Latin American country to get a bilateral visit from George Bush after his reelection. This shouldn’t surprise us: there are very few governments in the hemisphere that have politically supported the Iraq adventure, fast free-trade talks, and the “war on terror” as currently envisioned.
For Bush and his foreign-policy team, Ãlvaro Uribe’s Colombia is a “balance” against the growing axis of center-left regimes in places like Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina and now Uruguay. Among the main issues to be discussed with Uribe will be the question of what will come after Plan Colombia. At the end of 2005, after six years and $4 billion in U.S. aid – 80 percent for the armed forces and the police – this program will end.
The debate over post-2005 aid will begin in the spring of next year, when the Bush administration presents Congress with its 2006 aid request. Right now, months before formalizing its request, the administration is deciding what to ask Congress to grant Colombia: more military aid, a better balance between money for war and money for urgent socioeconomic needs, or an across-the-board cut to free up money for other countries.
For President Uribe, then, the November 22 visit is his best opportunity to lobby on behalf of his preferred “shopping list.” If the past is any guide, this list will not include job-creation projects, hospitals, schools, or support for the judicial system. It will be made up of weapons, helicopters, fumigation and perhaps support to clone “Plan Patriota” and carry out similar military offensives elsewhere in the country. (Perhaps Uribe’s list will also include a clear signal of U.S. support for his reelection.)
To sell his “shopping list,” Uribe and his people will rain statistics and PowerPoint slides on their U.S. visitors. Men in uniform will tell of imminent victory over the terrorists. Officials will assure that, according to their data, fumigation is finally working and the little human-rights problem is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
How wonderful it would be if, in spite of the security bubble in which he travels, his first visit to Colombia opens Mr. Bush’s eyes – at least enough to inspire him to ask some uncomfortable questions. Imagine if Bush sought to learn why, after so many years of fighting a drug war, the price and purity of cocaine and heroin has failed to change on U.S. streets.
Imagine if Bush asked his own officers if, given the current military realities in Colombia, we won’t see ourselves condemned to keep on repeating the recent doubling of the legal limit on the U.S. military presence, until we find ourselves fully involved in the conflict. Imagine if Bush were to ask why so much U.S. aid goes to help conquer territory, and so little to help govern it.
Imagine if these questions led Bush to seek to consult with social and campesino leaders from the zones subject to fumigation; with brave organizers of innovative peace-building initiatives; with governors of indigenous groups under fire from all armed actors; with human-rights defenders and union activists living in conditions of permanent threat.
This is all very unlikely, of course. No matter what, it is at least reasonable to hope that, instead of another celebration of uncertain achievements, this visit results in a serious consideration of the challenges of the near future and the sharp changes in strategy that will be needed to meet them.
Adam Isacson is director of programs at the Center for International Policy in Washington.