The recent deal between Congress and the White House clears the way for the ratification of free-trade agreements with Panama and Peru, two American allies in Latin America. But what about Colombia?
Colombia has risked the lives of its police and military and sustained huge casualties in an effort to do us a favor by keeping drugs off our streets. Our military aid to Colombia has not been frittered away on useless hardware or used to line some general’s pockets, but has paid for a military that has disarmed the drug dealers’ personal armies — 30,000 have been disarmed — and driven the leftist drug-linked guerillas into hiding in a remote jungle portion of the country. Unable to come out or mount operations in major urban areas, they are just trying to survive, to stay one step ahead of the American helicopters manned by brave Colombian soldiers that pursue them.
I recently visited Medellín, Colombia, once the heartland of the Medellín Cartel, the main drug ring in the hemisphere. Drug lords have been driven out of the area and there have been no kidnappings, once a staple of Medellín life, in the past three years.
But Colombia is entitled to ask a basic question: If you don’t want us to sell drugs to your children, why won’t you at least let us sell you bananas, sugar, flowers, textiles and other products without imposing tariffs on us? Peru and Panama are both loyal allies, but their soldiers are not conducting daily drug sweeps through the mountains trying to stop drugs before they reach our schools. And Colombia is.
If the Democrats in Congress scuttle the Colombia free-trade deal, they will undermine and undercut Colombia’s successful war on drugs. The troops in Colombia who risk their lives daily to smash labs, defoliate cocoa plants, and arrest drug lords will find themselves swimming against the economic tide. If the United States does not reward Colombia by making its exports — other than cocaine — profitable, it will leave the poor of that South American ally no choice but to go back to the drug labs.
The agreements with Peru and Panama have moved ahead because of the administration’s willingness to include requirements of fair labor and environmental practices. The more paranoid concerns of the neocons, that such provisions could be turned back on the U.S. and used to advance the agenda of the AFL-CIO here, have apparently not carried the day.
The issue that seems to be holding up the ratification of the Colombia accords relates to anti-union tactics there. Clearly, language could and should be written into the treaty that satisfies our labor movement that their compatriots in Colombia are being treated fairly.
But Álvaro Uribe, Colombia’s president, has won broad backing for his battle against drugs and has strong support from all elements in his country.
And internationally, Uribe is the leading opponent of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and his anti-American ranting. A staunch ally of the U.S., Uribe is a democratic beacon to counter the fog of oppression that is rolling across Latin America from Caracas. There are few success stories on the continent the equal of Colombia’s, and we should reward it with a free-trade agreement.
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