PUTTING A HOLD ON HOPE*
By John I. Laun*
Madison, June 16,08
Barack Obama promises change. His campaign focuses on him as a real agent of change. Yet those of us who concentrate our attention on Latin America must have serious doubts about his commitment to real change after his remarks in Miami before the Cuban American National Foundation a few days ago.
In his remarks, after embracing the son of Jorge Mas Canosa, strident opponent of the Castro government, he declared his support for the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Even many Cuban exiles in Florida want the embargo to end, since it has hurt the Cuban people and stifled contacts and commerce between the U.S. and Cuba, which could help reduce tensions and promote understanding between our countries.
And with respect to Colombia, Mr. Obama expressed his support for the Colombian government pursuing “terrorists” across national borders, in effect approving Alvaro Uribe’s recent cross-border raid into Ecuador. Colombia’s invasion of Ecuador to attack a FARC guerrilla camp there was contrary to international law. Alvaro Uribe knew it was, which is why he told Ecuadorian President Correa that the Colombians were in “hot pursuit” of the FARC, which Uribe knew to be false. We are disappointed that Obama, who prides himself on having been a constitutional law professor, should be promoting a violation of international law. Latin American observers have criticized the Bush administration for seeking to use Alvaro Uribe’s actions as a wedge against the South American unity which several progressive leaders of Latin American governments have been pursuing. Mr. Obama’s apparently unquestioning support for President Uribe’s actions suggests his uncritical adoption of the Bush administration’s shortsighted policies toward Latin America.
Mr Obama expresses his support for the Colombian government of Alvaro Uribe. How is it that a President under whose watch millions of people have been internally displaced ( at present the number of displaced is more than 4 million, more that 9% of Colombia’s population) can be considered an effective President? To put it in terms a U.S. leader might recognize, if during 6 years of a U.S. President ‘s term in office there came to be 25 million U.S. citizens who had been forced out of their homes, would we consider that President to be a success? How can Mr. Obama support a President in Colombia who bought the votes for his own re-election by bribing members of Colombia’s Congress with public funds to vote in his favor? And what about the close ties of Alvaro Uribe and his political supporters, including his cousin Mario Uribe, to illegal paramilitaries and to corrupt military officers such as retired general Rito Alejo del Rio, who collaborated with paramilitaries in campaigns to “cleanse” (as Del Rio himself put it to a Colombia Support Network delegation several years ago) the region of union leaders, Patriotic Union elected officials, and others who worked for better conditions for peasants, indigenous communities and Afro-Colombians in the countryside?
Former Vice President Al Gore was right to refuse to share a stage in Florida with President Uribe. If Mr. Obama wishes to avoid carrying out a third term of George W. Bush’s presidency with respect to Latin America, he needs to pay attention to the condition and the wishes of the great majority of the people there. He needs to respect the effort of coordination among Latin American administrations who are focusing on the poor and underprivileged, because those countries– not the militaristic Uribe regime– are laying the ground work for real stability.
Those of us who refuse to concede that Obama’s presidency would be like a third term for George W. Bush as to Latin America have a lot of educating to do. We hope that Mr. Obama will seek the guidance of Members of Congress of his own party who have been to Colombia and who understand the issues there, such as Jan Schakowski of Illinois, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Jim McGovern of Massachussetts.
Mr. Obama needs to understand the reality of the situation in Colombia and follow a course that will support real democracy and human rights there, not the sham “democratic security” and human rights abuses of the Uribe Administration and its military and paramilitary allies.
*President of the Colombia Support Network
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621