Since President Obama has spent most of his first 100 days in office getting an economic stimulus package through Congress and reevaluating the United States’ approach to “hot spots” abroad, we still don’t know whether we’re going to see winds of change, or just mere breezes, from his administration when it comes to U.S. policy in Colombia.
What do we know so far? For starters, the Obama Administration isn’t viewing Colombia as the United States’ lone ally in the region—a positive break from the last eight years. Already, we’ve seen the State Department issue a statement of neutrality regarding elections in El Salvador and an Oval Office meeting on climate change and energy between the President and President da Silva of Brazil. President Obama put in a phone call to President Uribe shortly after his inauguration, but his desire to see progress on human rights was reportedly part of the conversation.
Another positive signal was recently sent by Sec. of State Hillary Clinton. On a trip to Mexico, the secretary owned up to the clear connection between drug-related violence there and America’s “insatiable” demand for drugs. Clinton’s comments show that the Obama Administration may be taking drug prevention and rehabilitation, and controlling the flow of U.S. arms, more seriously than previous administrations. It’s only rhetoric—and it needs to be backed up by a budget and action. But it hints at an encouraging willingness to acknowledge the United States’ responsibility in creating some of our neighbors’ problems.
Right now we’re simply reading the tea leaves as best we can—and maybe we’re reading into them a little too much. We won’t know if we’re actually getting better policies, or only a needed change of tone, until the Obama Administration sends its foreign aid budget request, which includes Colombia aid, to Congress sometime this spring.
What we do know is that we need to ACT right now—because the truth is that if we don’t organize our communities, cajole and educate our reps. in Congress, and keep the pressure on President Obama every which way we can, we’re not likely to see a significantly improved Colombia policy this year.
You’re probably asking, “What can I do to help?” Not to worry, because there is plenty! Receiving our e-alerts is the best way to stay connected to actions, but here are a few ideas to whet your activist appetite:
• Send President Obama a fax or postcard calling on him to support “Change Colombia Can Believe In.”
• Call your reps. in Congress today. Tell them why we need a new direction and ask them to weigh in directly with President Obama in support of a Colombia policy that stands by victims of violence and promotes peace, justice, and human rights.
• Host a doll-making party! People of faith and grassroots activists throughout the United States and Colombia made thousands of paper cut-out dolls representing internally displaced people for Days of Prayer and Action 2009. This activity was such a success (and so much fun!) that we’ve decided to continue it! We invite you to host a doll-making party this spring to educate your friends and family about the ongoing displacement crisis. Remember to be creative and have fun!
• Meet with your reps. during an upcoming “District Work Period.” Your reps. will be home May 25-29 and June 29-July 3. Call their district offices today and schedule an appointment. Remember to bring a copy of LAWGEF’s Compass for Colombia Policy report, and a Members’ Educational Packet on Colombia.
As we’ve said before, change never comes easy and it certainly won’t be handed to us. But if we keep working together and insisting that our values be represented in U.S. policy towards Colombia, it’s only a matter of time before our message is heard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.