Today marks the date of entry into force of the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA). What a long, strange trip it’s been since the agreement was signed in 2006. The rear-guard action of those opposed to trade generally, those opposed to the United States in Latin America specifically, and those who sought to use the agreement as leverage to promote narrower special interests has been fierce. In the end, however, it became politically untenable and strategically short-sighted to continue to deny both Colombian as well as U.S. citizens the benefits of the trade agreement, and, as a result, today marks the beginning of a new chapter in U.S.-Colombian relations.
Nonetheless, amid well-deserved celebrations within the trade community, we should not lose sight of the fact that the current moment is just the next step. It is a critically important step, to be sure, one that should have occurred years ago, and one that, by its absence, held up much of the rest of the hemispheric agenda for the past several years. It is important that the U.S.-Colombia FTA be seen as a tool for the improvement of the lives of people in both nations, and that, together, we work toward that outcome through close attention to the implementation process. And it is equally important that the United States and Colombia begin now to work toward a broader trade agenda, one that would bring Colombia as a Pacific nation into the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum as well as near-term participation in negotiations to create the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Colombia should also be invited to join the G20 as a permanent member, and, once all standards have been adequately met, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), too.
Colombia is a nation on the move, and an engaged, strategically-minded United States would seek to capitalize quickly on the success of the bilateral FTA by working with others to bring Colombia into the broader global trade and investment architecture. Colombia has a well-established and hard-earned record of success, and it has proven over the years to be a close friend of the United States. At a time when we need allies globally, we should do what we can to promote Colombia’s broader ambitions, consistent with our own interests, just as we are doing with nations outside this hemisphere.
President Barrack Obama’s pronouncement in favor of gay marriage certainly qualifies as both historic and courageous, not only for its content but also for its timing. Some critics already see some political machinations in this statement, which came shortly after Vice President Joe Biden seemed to indicate support for gay marriage. The polling data, however, would indicate that the president made a somewhat risky move whose ramifications remain uncertain.
The issue of gay marriage has been a polarizing issue more so in America than in my home country of Canada. In the 2004 presidential election, the Bush campaign cleverly used state referenda on banning gay marriage or defending traditional marriage as an instrument to bring out the religious right in favor the president. Considering the narrow victory by Mr. Bush over Senator John Kerry, it has become conventional wisdom to consider the tactic a success.
As was the case with many countries outside of the United States, Canada had its share of Obama fever back in 2008. His candidacy was arguably seen as transformative, if only by being the first African-American candidate in a serious position to win the presidency. To be fair, the 2008 Democratic primary season also had all the makings of another rendezvous with history: the possibility of the first woman, Hillary Clinton, to capture the U.S. presidency. When Obama ultimately triumphed, Canadians seemed as excited as our neighbors to the south and hope was as much in the air in Canada as in the U.S.
Unlike some of our American friends who may have since soured on President Obama, Canadians generally retain a positive view of the President. It is not an exaggeration to say that his re-election for a second term would be seen very favorably. In fact, the general consensus after the rather disappointing Republican primary season is that Obama will walk away with an easy victory. It seems that many in Canada confuse their wishes with reality on the ground as Americans are bracing for a hard fought election.
The reality is that the United States remains fundamentally a 50-50 nation, with independents holding the key to the final results. The sluggish recovery in the U.S. (20 percent of lost jobs have been recovered) is contrasted by a far more robust recovery in Canada (over 100 percent). While our optimism is somewhat guarded regarding the economy, it is clear we did not have a housing crisis and a financial meltdown of the magnitude of America. Our single payer healthcare system, while under some financial strain, remains very much a major tenet of our social and economic security. Our growth outlook is generally considered good compared to our fellow OECD countries. So we tend to extrapolate our comparative good fortune with that of President Obama’s attractiveness and ask: Why would America change leaders now? The fact is that the economic picture will be a decisive factor in the November election.
Last weekend’s Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, ended on a discordant note with no final communiqué outlining a joint statement on the conference’s outcome. The refusal by the United States and Canada to accept Cuba at the next Summit created a schism with their Latin American and Caribbean partners who supported Cuba’s inclusion, although President Obama and Prime Minister Harper were acting in a manner consistent with previous positions regarding Cuba‘s participation. The lack of a communiqué, however, should not be seen as a failure but rather as a time to reflect.
The U.S. embargo of Cuba is essentially a relic of the Cold War period when Fidel Castro embraced the Soviet bloc, and later, when the world teetered on the brink of a nuclear confrontation during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Clearly, in this presidential cycle with Florida remaining a swing state and with its fiercely anti- Castro Cuban population, Obama had little room to maneuver. Admittedly, there is no appetite in both the Democratic and Republican parties to turn Cuba into a political issue in the short term.
Despite this predictable outcome, it is reasonable to hope that both the U.S. and Canada take a fresh look at Cuba and the post-Castro period. Both Castro brothers are aging and communism is no longer a major geopolitical factor on the global stage. Latin American countries have emerging economies with increasingly stable democracies wanting to reach out with trade overtures. In this era of the Internet and globalization, it is unlikely that the iron fist of the Castro legacy will be able to maintain its grip for years to come. In any case, the embargo has not achieved its goal. Why not explore the option of engagement?
No nos digamos mentiras: los únicos resultados concretos de la Cumbre de las Américas se hicieron a la medida de Estados Unidos. Unas pocas horas antes de que el presidente Barack Obama aterrizara en Cartagena, dos leyes sustanciales para la aprobación del Tratado de Libre Comercio (TLC) fueron aprobadas a pupitrazo por el Congreso de Colombia.
Por su propio veto (el de Estados Unidos), temas cruciales que marcaron la agenda mediática y política las últimas semanas, no se discutieron en la Cumbre: la inclusión de Cuba en próximos encuentros continentales y la defensa argentina de la soberanía de las Islas Malvinas. Ese disenso motivó que no hubiera declaración final conjunta. Una cumbre sin declaración, es como una reunión sin acta: ni idea quién estuvo ni qué se dijo, ni en qué orden, ni quién apoyo qué. Claro, aquí se sabe más que eso, pero varias de las reuniones fueron privadas, y las públicas fueron sin duda políticamente correctas.
Por tanto más hubiera valido hacer una cumbre bilateral y no un encuentro con 31 invitados que costó al menos 25 millones de dólares (según la propia cancillería) en los que algunos se fueron molestos (Argentina y Bolivia), otros cortaron su estancia inexplicablemente (Brasil) y otros se tomaron fotos con los indígenas Wayuu y hablaron de responsabilidad social (Chile) pero a la hora de la verdad tampoco aportaron al debate grueso que prometía marcar la diferencia en esta cumbre: la discusión sobre la política antidrogas.
Pese a que el mismo José Miguel Insulza, secretario general de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA) dijo que ya era hora de una estrategia antidrogas propia para el continente, desde pronto Barack Obama, entrevistado en medios latinoamericanos, tanto como Juan Manuel Santos en medios norteamericanos, lanzó frases políticamente correctas como que aceptaba la responsabilidad de su país en el consumo, pero siempre fue claro en que no estaba de acuerdo con la despenalización.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Spanish.
We're not going to complain or request solutions. Welcome to Colombia, a country that in the last past 200 years has tried to align itself to your ideals of liberty and equality, with more or less mediocre results. Acclaimed historians have often said that we're a "country of the in-between," despite the fact that we've been reluctant to renounce our airs of "greatness."
Since President Santos decided to give out—in your presence—two titles to collective territories for Afro-Colombians, the issue of our country’s Afro-Colombian has been on the agenda.
You, President Obama, would most likely have a vision that's oriented to a civil, independent and critical society; it would be strange if you didn't.
Ours is one that has given a "conditioned support" to the lobby that backed the ratification of the free-trade agreement in the U.S. Congress, with our own resources.
We have shown other proof of our desire of inserting the best interests of Colombia's Afro-descendant population into those of the nation.
Colombian officials confirmed yesterday that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is expected to attend this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. The announcement of Chávez’ decision to attend the summit alongside other hemispheric heads of state comes amid intense speculation about the possible deterioration of the Venezuelan leader’s health. Chávez has spent the last few days in Cuba undergoing radiation treatment for his cancer and, according to sources in Colombia, may spend only a few hours at the summit before heading home to Venezuela.
President Chávez at home is facing his most serious electoral challenge since he rose to power in 1998 and may be striving to shore up international support, while projecting an image of strength to observers in Venezuela. The upcoming summit will put major hemispheric issues into the spotlight, such as commercial integration, regional security, monetary policy, and natural disaster relief.
The Obama administration also announced yesterday that the U.S. president will arrive in Colombia on Friday—a day earlier than was originally planned. Senior White House officials have announced that Obama will go to the summit seeking to boost trade and commercial ties—especially in the energy sector—and will likely focus his public statements on the successful passage last year of free trade deals with Panama and Colombia.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff met with President Obama yesterday on her first official visit to the United States since assuming office in January 2011. At the top of the Brazilian agenda was a push for U.S. collaboration in countering a global trend of countries keeping their currencies artificially undervalued in order to make their export prices more competitive.
According to Rousseff, a multilateral effort is needed to halt competitive exchange rate devaluations, which she contends impair growth in countries like Brazil. Now the world’s sixth-largest economy, Brazil’s trade balance with the United States has gone from a $6.4 billion surplus in 2007 to an $8.2 billion deficit in 2010. This is driven in large part by a strong real, which has boosted Brazil’s demand for imports.
Both presidents praised each other on fostering strong bilateral relations, but it was also acknowledged that there is more to be done. According to Obama, “The good news is that the relationship between Brazil and the United States has never been stronger. But we always have even greater improvements that can be made.” Among other things, the United States is trying to help U.S. businesses profit from major oil discoveries off Brazil’s coast and from growing Brazilian investments in advanced military equipment such as fighter jets.
President Rousseff is in Boston today to speak at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Dilma Rousseff in Washington; Sixth Summit of the Americas on Saturday; Chávez possibly seeking treatment in Brazil; Maras and Zetas reportedly joining forces; and Boudou under investigation.
Dilma in Washington: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff begins a three-day visit to Washington today, where she will meet with her U.S. counterpart Barack Obama. This is Rousseff’s first visit to the U.S. since taking office in January 2011. Aside from meetings at the White House, Rousseff will speak at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce later today, and give a public speech at Harvard University tomorrow. In the Financial Times, Moisés Naim calls for the two countries to agree to a trade deal as a tangible outcome. Adds AQ Editor-in-Chief, Christopher Sabatini, “There will be plenty to discuss, from improving bilateral commerce and investment, Brazil’s recent flurry of legislation favoring local content and business, Iran, and—I hope—the upcoming presidential elections in Venezuela.”
Summit of the Americas on Saturday: Cartagena, Colombia, will host this weekend the Sixth Summit of the Americas, the regional conference of heads of state organized under the aegis of the Organization of American States. This year’s theme is “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity.” But will the summit yield any significant results? Notes Sabatini: “While this will be a great opportunity to show off how far Colombia has come in the 18 years since the summit process started, there is really very little the summit can accomplish beyond speeches and vague promises.”
Chávez May Seek Treatment in Brazil: Although Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez landed in Havana on Sunday to receive his latest round of radiotherapy, Brazilian media has been reporting that Chávez may seek further treatment at Sírio-Libanês hospital in São Paulo. This is the same hospital where former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva last year successfully recovered from cancer surgery. Specifically, O Globo has reported—citing anonymous sources—that Chávez’ cancer has metastasized and may spread to his liver. Although the Venezuelan embassy in Brasília has denied the reports, pay attention to how this story develops over the coming days.
Maras-Zetas Alliance: Guatemalan authorities this weekend reported that the deadly Mara Salvatrucha gang, which dominates Central America’s Northern Triangle, has formed a pact with the equally dangerous Zetas group in Mexico for control of key drug transit routes from South America to the United States. In an already violence-plagued Central America, the alliance spells bad news for counternarcotics officials and may bolster the positions of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina—a proponent of drug legalization—at this weekend’s Summit of the Americas. “An alliance between two of the region’s most feared criminal networks yet again reinforces the critical need for a real regional approach to reducing insecurity. The drug traffickers don’t respect borders and neither should counternarcotics efforts,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
Future of Boudou: Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou is now under investigation by federal authorities for his actions as economy minister—in the two years prior to assuming the vice-presidency—specifically that he helped printing company Ciccone Calcográfica get out of bankruptcy. Boudou has denied the charges and still has the full support of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her administration. After a raid of Boudou’s apartment last week, there may be new developments this week on the ongoing investigation.
Assembled in the White House Rose Garden for a joint press conference on Monday, the “three amigos” of North America projected an image of trilateral comity in keeping with the depth of their countries’ relationships. Yet Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper departed the one-day North American Leaders’ Summit without a firm commitment from U.S. President Barack Obama on their request to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Buried in the penultimate line of the lengthy joint statement was a coy response: “The United States welcomes Canada’s and Mexico’s interest in joining the TPP as ambitious partners.”
As President Obama acknowledged in the Rose Garden, TPP’s high-standards approach “could be a real model for the world.” Indeed, the goal of the original four TPP members—Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore—was to create a uniquely comprehensive agreement to which like-minded countries on both sides of the Pacific could accede, thus linking Asia and the Americas. Similarly, the U.S. decision to join TPP made more sense for the bloc’s potential to grow than for the market-access gains to be found in the members’ relatively small economies. For Washington, TPP carries significant strategic weight as long as it continues to expand.
To its credit, the Obama administration recognizes the geopolitical benefits of TPP in the context of increased U.S. engagement with the Asia-Pacific. Its reluctance to advocate for expanded participation from the Western Hemisphere, however, risks a gross strategic oversight. As Harper candidly remarked to an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Monday, while “most of the members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership would like to see Canada join, I think there’s some debate, particularly within the (Obama) administration, about the merits of that."