McCain’s Gamble on Colombia

Senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain is betting he can win the election using what he believes is his strongest suit: national security and foreign policy. It’s probably his best bet, but a risky one.

Take what happened last week in Colombia and how little it is likely to matter in the U.S.

Just for starters, on the day that the huge international story of the bloodless liberation of hostages broke, McCain was in Colombia and president Alvaro Uribe showed his trust in the man –and the continuation he represents in the Bush administration’s policy of showering the South American country with money and intelligence operators- by telling him in advance about the covert plan.

At the same time, back in the States, Democratic hopeful Barack Obama was probably not thinking that much about Colombia, and neither were most Americans, except the family members of the three Americans that were also liberated.

Most likely, many in the nation were focused on the new job losses announced that day: another 62,000 in June, for a grand total of 438,000, or the almost 5 dollars per gallon of gas that many Americans are paying, even as their homes are losing value and food is increasing in price.

But the fact that McCain was traveling in Colombia and Mexico so early in the campaign shows what he’s thinking: he wants Latino votes; he wants to show he’s a statesman with international gravitas and he knows Colombia is so far the best place to show that anti-terrorism efforts are actually going somewhere.

Unfortunately for McCain, Colombia is not necessarily what Americans will care about when they vote in November. But at least he can say that he (and Bush) were right in supporting Uribe in his fight against the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces).

The problem is that Americans don’t feel directly threatened by the crimes committed by FARC, because they’re not wide-scale attacks on American soil, but kidnappings and killings inside Colombia. The other war in Colombia that affects the United States is the war against drugs, and it’s anything but a success.

As for Colombians in the US, as well as Mexicans, both groups have been profoundly affected by the current economic situation. In addition, immigrants of both nationalities have been dragged to jail in recent immigration raids.

As far as they are concerned, McCain’s visit to the Virgin of Guadalupe Church in Mexico City was touching. They expected McCain would at least bring an offering of a new immigration reform bill like the one he supported before.

Instead he brought flowers.

Pilar Marrero is the political editor and a columnist for La Opinión, and a reporter with Feet in Two Worlds.