McCain Promises Help in Colombia

By Dialogo
January 12, 2011

Speaking at the end of a meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Cartagena on 8 January, U.S. Senator John McCain promised help in obtaining approval of a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Bogotá and providing aid to those affected by the rains in Colombia.

McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate who flew over the region affected by the bad weather, visited Colombia together with another U.S. legislator, John Barrasso.

Both senators promised Santos that they would support U.S. Congressional approval of the FTA with Colombia, a new expansion of Andean tariff preferences, and efforts to collect aid for the more than two million people affected by the rains in the South American country.

Santos expressed gratitude for the offer, highlighted the “strategic alliance” between Bogotá and Washington, and recalled that McCain was in Cartagena the day before the Colombian Army rescued fifteen hostages from the FARC guerrilla group on 2 July 2008, including French-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt and three American contractors for the State Department.

“The night before the rescue of Operation Check-Mate, with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, we decided to tell Senator McCain what we had planned for the next day, and we asked him not to say a word and to pray for the success” of the military action, the president revealed.

Santos, who was Uribe’s defense minister between 2006 and 2009, was in charge of the liberation of the hostages.

“Senator McCain has visited us for the fourth time (…) he’s someone very friendly to Colombia; he’s defended our causes because he’s understood that we have common objectives,” the president said.

Santos indicated that he also spoke with McCain and Barrasso about Plan Colombia, a Washington-financed plan to combat drugs and violent groups, and about the situation of those affected by the rains, among other matters.

“We’re in very good hands, and we thank the two legislators for the help they’ve given us,” the Colombian president emphasized, after McCain and Barrasso declared that they are “committed” to Congressional approval of the FTA with Bogotá, now that the Republicans dominate the House of Representatives.