Pastrana and Uribe: King Trump receives Colombian vassals
Colombia's then-President Andres Pastrana, center, receives president-elect Alvaro Uribe, right, at the Presidential Palace in Bogota, May 27, 2002. The two were together again April 14, 2017 at Mar-a-Lago to lobby President Trump. | German Enciso / ANCOL via AP

It was strange; two former presidents and a current one met secretly in Florida on April 14. Two modes of governance were evident. Taking on the role of dependents, former Colombian Presidents Andrés Pastrana and Álvaro Uribe were, in effect, appealing to a patrón, a boss.  President Donald Trump apparently received them all on his own, as if U.S foreign policy had been privatized. The scenario was worthy of a feudal-era mini-drama.

Colombian reporters were initially confused as to where the meeting took place. Then President Trump’s private estate and club, Mar-a-Lago, materialized as the venue. What was said is unknown, but surely there was more to the affair than the version recounted by White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “There wasn’t anything beyond a quick hello [as] the president walked past them,” she reported.

Indeed, former presidents of an allied country and a U.S. President should have a lot to talk about. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whose wife is Colombian, must have thought so inasmuch as he set up the meeting. An unknown member of Trump’s club – where the initiation fee is $200,000 – had his guests in place when Trump showed up.

If a letter sent by Uribe to the U.S. Congress at about the same time indicates anything, the trio talked about implementation, or not, of the recently-signed peace agreement between Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP).

As presidents, Pastrana and Uribe sought military victory in a terrible, long war and relied on U.S. military aid. When he was in office in 1999, Pastrana accepted U.S.-drafted Plan Colombia, even prior to its translation into Spanish, in order to finish off the FARC-EP. Between 2002 and 2010, Uribe, with almost 500,000 troops at his disposal, tried to do just that.

Juan Manuel Santos succeeded Uribe as president. His government and the FARC-EP independently determined that the war was unwinnable. Peace talks began in 2012. Álvaro Uribe, formerly a partner of narco-traffickers and alleged ally of paramilitaries, then turned against Santos, his former defense minister. Uribe, a senator now, heads forces intent upon undoing the peace accord.

Parlaying with the new U.S. President served that purpose. At issue was money that an imperialist nation dispenses to work its way in dependent nations. Under Plan Colombia, governments in Washington provided Colombia with equipment, personnel, and technical assistance worth over $10 billion. In early 2016, Presidents Obama and Santos, anticipating the signing of a peace accord, took a new tack. They agreed to a “Peace Colombia” plan, which saw Obama promising $450 million annually in support.

President Santos will be visiting Donald Trump in Washington in early May. He will be asking the U.S. government to make good on that promise, but there is opposition in the U.S. Congress. Thus, Senator Marco Rubio arranged for the Colombian ex-presidents to do some lobbying. And Florida Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart let slip the strategy: “We are going to be attaching more and more strings to make sure that the money does not go to handing Colombia over to the FARC.”

Former President Uribe’s letter to the U.S. Congress features hyperbole, over-simplification, perverted history, and self-serving assertions. It ignores alternative viewpoints. Uribe raises the specter of collusion between an unpunished FARC-EP and Venezuela’s current government to “adopt the same path” for Colombia which is being followed by Maduro – toward what he implies to be an alleged Cuban-style communism.

Uribe and Santos represent opposed wings of Colombian conservatism. Santos, cognizant of Colombia’s place in the globalized capitalist economy, argues that chaos, murder, and fear in the countryside hardly encourage investments in mining, energy, and agriculture. Uribe, by contrast, champions Colombia’s long-entrenched land-owning class dedicated these days to cattle-raising, narco-trafficking, militarization, and control of land.

In this sense, the visiting ex-presidents were inviting the U S. government to side with one faction of Colombia’s oligarchy against the other. They were conspiring with a foreign chieftain – Donald Trump. He, their soul mate in disregarding protocols, enabled them. It’s a situation reminiscent of the anarchic relations that prevailed among feudal fiefdoms in medieval Europe.

Left-wing Colombian senator Iván Cepeda, reacting to the meeting, opined that “Any action aimed at endangering [the peace process] is a danger for Colombia.” A like-minded journalist suggested that “the fact that former heads of state are trying to torpedo the politics of peace in the country and region, which the United States is confronting, qualifies as treason.”


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.