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El Tiempo, Colombia

Obama Part Two

Translated By Adam Zimmerman

20 January 2013

Edited by Natalie Clager

Colombia - El Tiempo - Original Article (Spanish)

Today in a private ceremony, U.S. President Barack Obama will take the oath which marks the beginning of his second term in the White House. The Democratic leader, who will give a public speech tomorrow, among other inaugural events, begins his second term after a decisive victory over the Republican Mitt Romney by a comfortable margin of 5 million votes.

Although the inauguration usually comes wrapped in a festive tone, the mood up north is very different than it was four years ago, when, under the slogan of “Change We Can Believe In”, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the mall before the Capitol in Washington to witness the rise of the first African-American to what has been called the most important job on the planet. The unity and promises of change of that time have passed through a great polarization that transcends politics and is now felt at the social and ethnic level.

A good part of the blame falls on the fearful economic crisis that Obama inherited from his predecessor, George W. Bush. Though the worst of the emergency is over, the economy is expanding at a mediocre pace and unemployment is at 7.8 percent, well above its historic average. To deal with the situation there are contradictory proposals made in Congress, in which the opposition controls the House of Representatives and the president’s party dominates the Senate.

On account of this situation, it is difficult to construct consensus solutions, as demonstrated by the 11th-hour formula which Congress came up with at the beginning of 2013 to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Although most of the danger of automatic spending cuts and tax increases is past, there still remains a debate on the federal deficit and the public debt ceiling, two unknowns that threaten to derail the ongoing mild recovery if they are not resolved in the next few weeks.

And this is not the only controversy. Another more recent one is the White House’s interest in regulating the sale of weapons, in answer to last December’s horrific massacre of 20 children in the small community of Newtown, Connecticut. In this case, the president confronts the powerful lobby of the National Rifle Association, which defends, with the support of the Republican Party, what it considers a constitutional right to bear arms.

On another front, the nomination of certain figures to key posts in the new administration promises to also cause controversy. While there seems to be plenty of support for John Kerry as secretary of state, succeeding Hillary Clinton, it will not necessarily work out as smoothly for the next chief of the Pentagon or other future cabinet members.

Curiously, immigration reform, an issue which was once cause for division, could be one of the few issues in which there is room for unity. After his victory, the president again promised he would seek to advance a solution for the over 12 million undocumented immigrants who are estimated to live in the U.S.

Although there are many who have opposed a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants for years, pushing instead for measures to secure the border, the results of the last election demonstrated to the Republicans that if they do not change their tone with regard to the Hispanic community, the White House will become more and more elusive. Now the country’s largest minority represents 10 percent of the electorate and, in the last election, was decisive in tipping the balance in favor of the winner.

Aside from domestic issues and the hope that the world’s largest economy gets a second wind, it is undeniable that Washington continues to play a crucial role in world affairs. Issues as fundamental as the situation in the Middle East, the civil war in Syria, the tension with Iran and the conflict between Israel and Palestine will stay at the top of Washington’s agenda. No less important are events in Afghanistan, where the bloody conflict with the Taliban continues, and in Pakistan, whose internal situation threatens to turn it into a destabilizing force in its region.

To such a list it is necessary to add the wild card of North Korea, with its nuclear threat, or the behavior of the new leadership in China, whose growing weight in world affairs is evident. And of course, one cannot ignore the danger of Islamic extremism in North Africa, which is back on the front page this week.

Faced with such a panorama, one would expect Latin America to continue occupying a secondary place in Obama’s agenda, though he may occasionally come to a presidential summit that takes place in the region. The motive, fortunately, is that this part of the world is in better shape than many others, although it has plenty of problems of its own. But that is no reason to ignore us, something which the allies of the United States — like Colombia — must remind the man who is at the start of his second term in the White House.



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