Tag: Latin America

For Trade Talks, Dial 57: Obama, Colombia's Uribe and the Future of the Free Trade Agreement

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe

Colombian Pres. Alvaro Uribe (Photo: Colombian Presidency)

The phones have been busy at the Obama transition offices, and country code 57 — for Colombia — was on the receiving end of at least a couple of this week’s calls.

The number was dialed on behalf of both President-elect Barack Obama (yesterday) and Vice President-elect Joe Biden (Monday) to talk to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, by far the staunchest American ally in Latin America under President George W. Bush.

Obama also called Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner — they talked about Argentinean writers Borges and Cortázar — and her Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet, who invited him to visit Chile.

But Uribe has a much more serious matter to discuss with the U.S. administration, both the current and the incoming ones: the approval of a Free Trade Agreement that Colombians hope can take place in the lame-duck Congressional session.

Colombian media reported that Obama and Uribe talked for ten minutes. “The topics of conversation were not revealed, but it was a constructive dialogue,” a source told the leading newsweekly La Semana.

“The call from the Democrat Obama,” said El Tiempo, Colombia’s biggest newspaper, “is significant because this week, and until next Wednesday the U.S. Congress, under a Democratic majority, is in an extra session and the FTA is expected to be dealt with.”

The Colombian FTA has become a priority for the outgoing Bush administration — to the point that President Bush and Obama talked about it at their first meeting after the Nov. 4 election.


Not Exactly A Debate: Obama, Biden Discuss Latin America on Univision

Obama and Biden on Univision

The Democratic ticket on Univision

The first debate between Barack Obama and John McCain left a “big frustration” among Latinos in the U.S. and Latin Americans watching across the hemisphere. Jorge Ramos, the Univision anchor, wrote “Latin America was completely ignored.”

“Neither Obama nor (John) McCain nor moderator Jim Lehrer dedicated even a few seconds to it. Nothing. Like President George Bush for almost eight years, the presidential candidates and the PBS journalist treated the region as it did not exist.”

The morning after the debate, Ramos had an opportunity to question Obama and his running mate Joe Biden about what U.S. relations with Latin America will be like if they win the November election. [You can find videos of the interview in Greensboro, N.C. on this page.]

Ramos first asked Obama whether he was still open to meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, after the latter expelled the American ambassador to the South American country and insulted the U.S. during a mass rally. Obama said that, as the president, he would have the obligation to meet anyone if he thought that it “would make America safer.”

Obama went on to say that Chávez has exploited his standing as a U.S. enemy to improve his popularity at home. [Univision has not yet published an English transcript of the interview.]

When Ramos followed up with a question to Biden about Russia’s joint military exercises with Venezuela in the Caribbean and about Chávez’s stated intention to build nuclear power plants, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations “answered with strong criticism, not for Chávez or the Russians, but for President Bush and candidate John McCain,” Ramos wrote.

Biden complained that the U.S. government has no set foreign policy towards Russia nor Latin America. “There’s no policy,” he said. “They don’t know what to do.”

The next topic was Mexico and drug violence. According to Ramos, Obama agreed with Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s assessment that for violence in Mexico to diminish, drug consumption has to decrease in the U.S. Obama called for a partnership with Mexico whereby the U.S. would do a better job of preventing money and guns from crossing the border into Mexico while the southern neighbor would continue fighting northwards drug trafficking.