- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If the majority in the U.S. Congress is concerned with an increasingly anti-American, left-leaning Latin America, they have a funny way of showing it. The seeming reluctance of congressional Democrats to consider a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) for Colombia, and the hostile reception of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in Washington last year by Democratic leadership calls into question whether they at all support one of America’s staunchest allies in that region.

Colombia remains a developing country that for decades has been wracked by civil conflict and an illicit narcotics trade that ends up on American streets. For these reasons, U.S. assistance for Colombia under the Clinton and Bush administrations has exceeded $5 billion. Many believe a FTA would ensure a sustainable return on our already significant foreign investment in that country.

Under Mr. Uribe’s leadership, Colombia is on the mend and is far more secure than when he first took office. According to the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices-2006, there was a 5 percent decline in homicide rates, 23 percent decline in massacres, 14 percent decline in kidnappings, and 20 percent decline in forced displacements in Colombia during that calendar year. Further, there is no better evidence of the strength of U.S.-Colombian relations than Mr. Uribe’s extradition of more than 430 criminals and drug traffickers.

So what accounts for the shoddy treatment of an American ally by congressional Democrats?

Perhaps congressional Democrats are only keen to play to their labor and human-rights constituencies whose opinions of President Uribe seem to stand in contrast to those of the Colombian people. As single-issue advocates, these groups appear more interested in conditioning assistance to Colombia and derailing any prospect for a FTA than helping to improve the economic and political situation in that country.

Perhaps Democrats have already judged Mr. Uribe guilty for alleged collusion with paramilitary groups in the 1990s, an assertion perpetuated by leftist Colombian opposition politician Gustavo Petro. Never mind that Mr. Uribe has flatly denied this allegation, or that Comrade Petro is a former member of the Cuban-backed M-19 guerrilla movement.

Still, maybe the American Left is simply unconcerned with Latin America’s drift to the left, regardless of its impact on U.S. strategic — and business — interests in the region. As reckless as this might be, it, too, is plausible.

Recall that in the late 1950s, New York Times reporter Herbert L. Matthews perpetuated the myth of Fidel Castro that stands in stark contrast to the grim realities of Communist Cuba today.

Decades later, Democrats furthered Havana and Moscow’s agendas in Nicaragua by defending Daniel Ortega and his Marxist Sandinistas. Misguided congressional efforts to appease Mr. Ortega at the expense of support for the Contras were chided by Secretary of State George Shultz, who said, “I’m sure it’s quite a problem for us when senators run around and start dealing with the communists themselves.”

Undeterred, in the 1990s congressional Democrats embraced a fickle, defrocked priest in Haiti who advocated violence against his opponents and perpetuated a culture of corruption that remains the hallmark of that Caribbean nation today. Jean Betrand Artiside’s belief that capitalism is a mortal sin carried a hefty price: Since fiscal 1990, America has provided more than $2.7 billion to that failed state in foreign and military aid.

Proving its aim had not improved over the years, the New York Times said in a Feb. 21, 1994, editorial: “Simply put, there can be no democracy in Haiti, at least during the current presidential term, without President Aristide.” History has since shown there is no democracy in Haiti precisely because of President Aristide.

And Democrats rushed to the defense of authoritarian Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez by asking the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General to determine whether there was U.S. involvement in the April 2002 coup d’etat. Not surprisingly, none was found. Even today, Democrats are doing priceless public relations work for Mr. Chavez by promoting distribution of discounted heating oil to American homes. Incredibly, this blame-America-first crowd seems unconcerned with Mr. Chavez’s psychotic rants against the United States — or Venezuela’s growing involvement as a transit country for the region’s narcotics trade.

With Fidel Castro still in Cuba, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, the American Left needs to urgently replace misguided romanticisms of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro with the realities of Latin America today. Until they do so, proven U.S. allies such as Colombian President Uribe — and a FTA with that country — will continue to find a chilly welcome in Washington, regardless of how many fact-finding trips to the region the State Department sponsors for Capitol Hill.

Judd Gregg is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from New Hampshire.

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