I am Colombian-American. I hold both passports. Yet in the United States, I am Colombian; while in Colombia, I am a gringo. I am never 100 percent one or the other. That is why Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' visit to Washington this week is personal. It reflects the strong relationship and progress between both countries, much like my heritage. The visit is also a symbolic inflection point as Colombia seeks to continue its favored status as a recipient of U.S. aid, at a time when Santos needs to galvanize support for the peace process, which will cement his legacy.
I will never forget where I was when I found out that my uncle, Alvaro, had been kidnapped by the FARC. Half a dozen armed guerrillas stormed my uncle's house an hour outside of Bogota. It was 1996, and I was just starting high school in Virginia. My parents had come to the Washington, D.C., area in the late 1970s, but we traveled back to Colombia regularly. I had heard my father talk about the worsening security situation. It was now real. We would not hear from my uncle for nine months until he was released after paying a ransom.
I wish I could say that this experience was unique, but it was all too common. Every Colombian had a story of an immediate family member or close friend affected by the armed conflict. Driving outside cities was very risky, and spending on private security mushroomed.
Being in the United States at the time, it was difficult to truly comprehend the chaos that was enveloping Colombia. That all changed in a heartbeat once I heard the news about my uncle....