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Colombia and Obama’s Latin America Policy: Time to Close Ranks and Support a Friend


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The Heritage Foundation:

Ray Walser

Abstract: On August 7, 2010, Juan Manual Santos will take office as the new president of Colombia. His election is a testimony to the Colombian public’s commitment to democracy and a strong U.S.–Colombian relationship. Over the past decade, the two countries have achieved an unprecedented level of cooperation on many fronts—from fighting drug-trafficking and narco-terrorism to advancing public safety and meeting human needs. The influence of the criminal FARC has been tumbling, and kidnapping and murder rates have been decreasing. Much of this progress has been possible thanks to the policies of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, on which Santos can build when he takes office. Despite the many positive developments, Colombia will continue to be reliant on support from its American ally. Instead of courting the anti-American and FARC-friendly Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the Obama Administration should reassess its global friendships and focus on aiding Colombia—including support of continued funding for Plan Colombia, urging Congress to approve the pending Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and building a comprehensive counternarcotics strategy. Heritage Foundation Latin America expert Ray Walser lays out the historical, political, and security significance of this critical U.S. ally.

The decisive June 20 triumph of Juan Manuel Santos, elected as Colombia’s next president, is a victory for democracy, a vote for policy continuity, and a reaffirmation of the importance of a strong U.S.–Colombian relationship. Closely associated with the policies of the transformative Alvaro Uribe, president since 2002, Santos is well positioned to strengthen the ties that bind the U.S. and Colombia, a relationship that has expanded to become an enduring, if sometimes overlooked, foundation point for U.S.–Latin American relations. On many fronts—from combating the drug trade and narco-terrorism to advancing citizen security and meeting human needs—the U.S. and Colombia have achieved an unprecedented level of cooperation over the past decade.

U.S. national interests in South America are broad in scope. They include the fight against illegal drugs, stopping the spread of terrorism, building strong representative democracies with sound institutions, advancing broad-based prosperity, and countering the ideological and geopolitical challenges posed by a range of anti-American actors from Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez to geostrategic interlopers like Russia and Iran. China, Canada, and the European Union (EU) are aggressively pursuing mutually beneficial trade relations with Colombia, while debate over U.S. approval of an already negotiated free-trade agreement (FTA) continues........(Snip)

Ray Walser, Ph.D., is Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
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