From pampered to spiteful
By Claudia LÃ³pez
El Tiempo (BogotÃ¡, Colombia), March 17, 2009
While President Lula da Silva of Brazil meets face-to-face with President Obama in the White House to discuss global and Latin American policy, the Colombian vice president laments the mistreatment that, according to him, Colombia receives from a sector of the Congress and U.S. civil society, and proposes to do away with Plan Colombia, considering it to be a source of humiliation.
Those news make apparent the shameful contrast bewteen Brazilian and Colombian foreign policy. Thanks to the former, Brazil will become the United States’ strategic partner in the region, and thanks to the second Colombia will be it no longer. Brazil will take on this role for obvious reasons. Because it is the 10th-largest economy on the planet, the most stable and progressive democracy on the continent, the only one with a world-class foreign ministry and president, a player with regional and global leadership.
Colombia will lose its status as preferred partner, also for obvious reasons. Because its role was being exaggerated and because President [Ãlvaro] Uribe did away with the bipartisan relationship he inherited from [1998-2002 President AndrÃ©s] Pastrana and took the side of the Republicans, who lost the election. The result is that Uribe was decorated [with the Medal of Freedom, in January] by Bush, but Colombia is left without solid bipartisan bridges to defend the country’s interests.
The Vice President’s interview with El Tiempo [on March 15, in which VP Francisco Santos called for an end to Plan Colombia] is a strong indication that the Colombian government has not finished mourning Bush’s defeat. The interview could be summarized: “Before, we did the same thing and nobody questioned us about anything. Now, they ask us why unionists are killed and we don’t produce judicial verdicts to clarify the crimes; how are we going to ensure that labor rights are respected for free trade; they ask us why we wiretap and follow judges and journalists who make us uncomfortable; why members of the security forces kill innocent young people to give false evidence of combat progress; why criminal gangs continue to operate in zones where the paramilitaries supposedly demobilized. They ask us how we spend those piddling 550 million dollars that they give us for Plan Colombia. It is an outrage! They must respect us!”
No, Vice President. They don’t ask us that just because of the “piddling” money. They ask because they are interested in issues like democracy and human rights. Because the are a central part of the political platform with which they won the elections. Because, I remind you, more than a year ago the Democrats won the congressional elections and four months ago, the presidential election. But you haven’t noticed this detail. Your indignation about the questions, and not about the facts and violations, only reinforces the well-founded doubts that this government now has, and makes them think that you don’t care a bit about whether they kill unionists or violate human rights; the only thing that appears to matter to you is that for this “nonsense” they won’t approve the Free Trade Agreement.
You’re right. Plan Colombia now doesn’t work. It would work better if the United States would commit to an effective policy against narcotrafficking, which wouldn’t leave us bearing all the costs of failure, while the consuming countries ignore their responsibilities at home. But you don’t ask for that. You ask for more planes, more military bases, more fumigations, more prohibition. More of the same failure. And you also ask for an FTA, with no questions asked. When they don’t give you that, you kick and scream and threaten, and then you become indignant because you’re not treated like statesmen.
If you want to be treated like statesmen, behave like statesmen. Stop asking, stamping your feet and threatening. Take the initiative, propose things and keep your word. Develop a bilateral agenda that incorporates both countries’ issues, interests and concerns, and propose specific goals within specific time periods.
To achieve this national purpose, it would help a great deal if the Santoses [Vice President Francisco and his cousin, Defense Minister Juan Manuel] would allow Foreign Minister [Jaime] BermÃºdez to dedicate himself to this task, instead of having to put out the fires they start.