Friday, November 7, 2008

An Imagined Conversation Between the Colombian President and Barack Obama

What will be said when Alvaro Uribe speaks by phone for the first time to the President Elect?

By Mario A. Murillo

(Bogotá, Colombia)

Everywhere one goes these days, the talk on the street is Barack Obama’s historic victory in the U.S. Presidential elections, and what it will mean for future relations between Washington and Bogotá.

On a noisy buseta this morning, on my way downtown, the bus driver immediately started striking up conversation with me by saying, “what about that Obama, can you believe it?”

Students at the Javeriana University were abuzz in excitement about the historic significance of Obama’s triumph. I spotted at least three people on campus sporting different variations of “Obama 2008” t-shirts!
And on the popular morning radio talk show on La W, the story of the day was how U.S. policy towards Colombia might change come January 20th, 2009, when the first African-American elected President takes the oath of office and steps into the White House. They noted the suspension of U.S. military aid to three units of the Colombian military announced late Thursday.

Evidently, regardless of their political leanings, Colombians are pretty clear that much of what happens in this country is directly impacted by those decision makers who are in positions of power up north. One of those people is the President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, who was quietly hoping for an electoral upset by Senator John McCain because of the cozy relationship he had developed for so many years with his Republican counterpart, George W. Bush.

Today, Colombia’s paper of record, El Tiempo reported that President Uribe called the offices of the President-elect, hoping to set up a phone meeting sometime soon with Obama to congratulate him, but also to draw his attention to some of Uribe’s primary concerns.

Anticipating this phone call, I thought I would set the stage with a preview of how that conversation might, and should, unfold (although at the moment, I am not holding my breath that relations between the two countries will change too much any time soon).

Barack Obama: Hello, this is Barack Obama.

Alvaro Uribe: Hola, Mr. President-elect, it’s President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, your country’s best friend in the Western Hemisphere, just calling to congratulate you on your historic victory on Tuesday night.

BO: Hola, Señor Presidente, nice to hear from you. I was told you were trying to call for the last few days. My Chief of Staff said you left about 13 messages.

AU: Was it that many? Hmmm, well, I appreciate you taking my call right now. When I was in Washington a few weeks ago, nobody in your party was really interested in talking to me.

BO: Yeah, sorry about that. You know, the campaign had all of us pretty busy.

AU: Anyway, your win was quite impressive. It’s a testament to the democratic spirit of the American people. I share in your joy, after having won two elections of my own already, with an overwhelming mandate from the people. But I wanted to talk to you about some concerns we have here in Colombia, specifically the bad feelings you expressed during the campaign about the Free Trade Agreement between our two countries.

BO: Actually, Señor Presidente, I’d rather not talk about this right now. You know, we just got word that my country lost 240,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate is higher than it’s been since 1994. We’re talking over 10-million people out of work! That’s not even to mention the major financial and credit crisis we’re experiencing that is trickling down into every other sector of our economy. To be perfectly honest, free trade is not tops on my agenda.

AU: Yes, yes, I understand. But I’m concerned that when you talk about assassinations of trade unionists as a reason for not approving the FTA, you are not totally informed.

BO: Excuse me, Señor Presidente.

AU: Please, call me Al.

BO: Yes, of course, Al. Excuse me, but I have read numerous reports about the dire situation facing trade unionists in your country from human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, that…

AU: You mean those international allies of the terrorists of the FARC that come to this country to teach us about human rights!

BO: Those are strong accusations, Al. Do you have concrete evidence that these organizations are collaborating with FARC?

AU: It’s just that these pesky trade unionists and human rights NGOs are only interested in staining the good name of my country and its democratic institutions, such as the Armed Forces, for political gains. They never recognize the progress we’ve made all these years.

BO: Yeah, and what about those, what do they call them, “false positives?” I heard that your Army was responsible for kidnapping innocent civilians from poor neighborhoods, executing them in cold blood, and then dressing them up like guerillas to show the world that you are making progress against the armed insurgency. How would you explain this to the American people?

AU: First of all, the FARC are not insurgents, the FARC are terrorists! And furthermore, we have no internal conflict in Colombia. We only have a problem of law and order, with terrorists and drug traffickers.

BO: But your own internal investigators recognized that a number of Army units were implicated in this horrendous tactic. It was reported in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and the New York Times. And, as I understand, there are another 900 or so cases of false positives that are still being investigated. That’s a lot of innocent people being killed under your watch, wouldn’t you say?

AU: Not under my watch, it was General Mario Montoya, the Commander of the Army. And he stepped down the same day you were elected to be the 44th president of the United States. You see, we’re taking responsibility.

BO: So what’s going to happen to General Montoya?

AU: Well, we’re considering him for the position of Ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

BO: Isn’t that position held by Juan Jose Chaux, the former governor of Cauca? The same guy linked to the paramilitary boss alias “H.H.,” the former commander of the AUC’s infamous Calima Block, responsible for massacring 100 Afro-Colombian and Indigenous people back in 2001 in Naya, Cauca?

AU: Well, actually no. That ambassador’s seat has been open for a couple of months now. And General Montoya has always wanted to return to the Caribbean.

BO: You mean he won’t be prosecuted?

AU: Prosecuted, for what? He has not been found guilty of anything. General Montoya is a national hero. He was the mastermind behind the release of several hostages back in July, including Ingrid Betancourt, and three of your own countrymen! Haven’t you heard about Operation Jaque?

BO: Yes, of course. I was briefed on that operation. Afterall, it was Plan Colombia monies and intelligence that made that all possible. But I was talking to Jose Miguel Vivanco the other day, and he mentioned something about this secret military unit General Montoya founded back in the 1970s called Triple A, or something to that effect. He said something about his role in bombings against opposition groups, and well-documented links to right-wing paramilitary groups? Will this be investigated by your Administration?

AU: Vivanco, he’s an international terrorist sympathizer!

BO: Excuse me Al, but this sounds like a false positive to me! Why must you keep saying things like that?

AU: I will not change my discourse just because you are the soon to be President of the United States. I will say the same thing to you that I tell the people here in Colombia. My Administration has done a lot in defense of human rights. We fired 27 high-ranking officers implicated in the false positives scandal. We’ve created a new position in charge of human rights within every combat brigade in the Army. We’ve demobilized thousands of paramilitaries, and have even sent a bunch of their top leaders to the U.S. to be prosecuted on drug trafficking charges in your courts. My government respects all workers, and the right to organize, and the right to strike for better working conditions. Those are lies, nothing but lies!

BO: And what about the sugar cane cutters? Haven’t they been on strike now for almost two months? My friends in the Congressional Black Caucus tell me you’ve been pretty tough with them, accusing them of all sorts of nasty things.

AU: But they’re manipulated by…well, by dark forces!

BO: Excuse me?

AU: No, no, you don’t seem to understand. You know, violent ones, terrorists of FARC, who try to take advantage of them and force them to strike. I mean, those people don’t know any better.

BO: What is that supposed to mean, "those people?"

AU: I mean, they’re poor peasants. Ignorant! And now they’ve practically put a stop to the entire sugar industry in my country. And ethanol! You know, one of those alternative fuels that you talked so much about in the campaign. Come on Barack, can we get back to the FTA?

BO: Please, call me “Mr. President-elect.”

AU: Yes, of course, Mr. President-elect. Forgive me.

2 comments:

Lisa said...

Ha,ha...great dialogue! You know, I think you have the makings of a novelist or screenwriter. I'm serious. You've got the start of a great script there...you should write a screenplay based on your experiences. As I read this, I couldn't help but imagine a comedy/thriller involving a mad chase to inform the president of the United States about what's really happening in Colombia. Will Uribe get to him before our hero: a fearless union leader or someone from the indigenous NASA community? (How about an investigator for the TPP?) Will Obama ever read the dossier by the People's Permanent Tribunal, implicating Uribe and his henchmen, the paramilitaries and U.S.-based transnational corporations in their campaign of terror? Of course, Uribe and his cronies will go out of their way to keep the American president in the dark about Colombia.

Well, I know how I want this movie to end. I just pray that Obama is as informed about the real struggles in Colombia as you've portrayed him in this imagined conversation. Ojala!

en la lucha,
Lisa

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