Last week’s daring rescue of 15 Colombian hostages held by the Marxist FARC has been universally hailed as a triumph of military strategy. But at least one group besides the gulled guerilla jailers looks diminished in its aftermath: Congressional Democrats.
While Colombia’s military will rightly reap praise for the rescue, the operation was in no small measure an American achievement. In addition to U.S. satellite intelligence that pinpointed the FARC guerillas’ jungle location, Colombian security forces have benefited from $4 billion in American aid since 2002.
For this assistance – so vital in last week’s events – Colombia does not have Democrats to thank. To the contrary, since assuming control of Congress in 2006, Democrats have made a cynical practice of slighting Latin America’s most pro-American government, not least on the issue of military aid.
Last year in particular saw an upsurge of anti-Colombian agitation on Capitol Hill. Goaded on by Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, head of the Senate subcommittee overseeing foreign aid, Democrats froze $55 million in military aid in April 2007. Al Gore, adding insult to injury, refused that same month to appear at an environmental conference with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Why a respected head of state would even wish to be seen alongside a political washout and global warming hysteric was unclear. Nonetheless, Gore’s no-show was a stinging insult to Uribe. It was not the last.
Nancy Pelosi, fresh from an April 2007 sit-down with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, threatened to withhold an audience with the democratically elected and widely popular Uribe during his May visit. Eventually agreeing to a talk with Uribe, Pelosi didn’t conceal her contempt. In stark contrast to her visit to the Hezbollah-sponsor Syria, where Pelosi gushed that the “the road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi berated Uribe, accusing his government of aiding “illegal paramilitary forces” and implicitly decrying him as the enemy of Colombians who want “to build a stronger democracy.” So much for Democrats’ vaunted diplomatic tact.
Colombia’s delegation was so jarred by Democrats’ hostility that, according to journalist Robert Novak, Vice President Francisco Santos publically contemplated severing U.S.-Columbian ties.
In response, Democrats only stepped up their attacks. Having previously rejected a free-trade agreement with Columbia, Democrats began bullying on financial aid. Connecticut’s Chris Dodd menacingly declared, in a letter co-authored with senate colleagues, that “maintaining current levels of assistance will be difficult to justify.” Pat Leahy blustered that “Congress is not going to be a rubber stamp” for Colombia. It was left to Bill Clinton to remind his party that President Uribe’s government was a top American ally, one that upholds the rule of law and wins free elections – by no means a given in Latin America. “We need to remember that we are friends,” Clinton urged.
If Democrats have indeed forgotten that, their amnesia is highly selective. Take the charge that Uribe is in bed with rightist paramilitary militias. Echoed even more luridly by Amnesty International and kindred groups, it has little to commend it. If anything, Uribe has proven himself as much a foe of the paramilitaries as he is of the leftist FARC. On his watch, some 31,000 militiamen have surrendered their weapons. Uribe also has presided over the extradition to the U.S. of 600 paramilitary drug-traffickers. Choosing the rule of law over relatives, he has even arrested his own cousin, former senator Mario Uribe, on charges of aiding paramilitaries. Just this May, Uribe extradited 14 prominent paramilitary leaders to the U.S. in the hopes of winning Democrats’ support.
No such luck. Frigid as ever, Democrats not only refused to approve a free-trade agreement with Columbia, as Uribe had long appealed, but they declined even to vote on it. Yet again, Columbia was snubbed.
Human-rights concerns cannot explain the Democrats’ aversion to Uribe. Were that the sole issue, Democrats would have adopted a more severe line toward neighboring states like Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. Where Uribe has twice triumphed in free and fair elections, including a landslide reelection victory in 2006, Chavez has crushed what remained of Venezuela’s opposition, most recently moving to end presidential term limits and crown himself president for life. Tellingly, Chavez has dodged the Democrats’ wrath.
Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes, FARC leaders fully believed that Nancy Pelosi would work with Chavez to free the hostages that the guerillas had no intention of releasing. Observing Democrats’ undisguised loathing of Uribe, one can easily see the source of the FARC’s confidence. At times, Uribe’s chief flaw, at least for Democrats, seems to be that he is not a man of the Left.
But times may be changing. After last week’s rescue, Democratic nominee-to-be Barack Obama generously praised President Uribe, pledging to “do everything that I can to assure the success of future efforts to free the FARC’s hostages and to defeat this terrorist organization.” Obama might start by jettisoning his union-pleasing opposition to the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Besides strengthening Colombia’s international stature, it would also be an economic boon for the U.S. (among other benefits, the agreement would push up American exports by $1.1. billion).
In a region increasingly shading toward economic populism and anti-Americanism, Uribe’s leadership and loyalty – he was among the few Latin American leaders to back the Iraq war – has been a rare political glimmer. For that, no less than for his spectacular successes against the FARC, he surely deserves more than the partly-line disdain of the Democratic leadership.