Friday, April 18, 2008

Blow to Colombia

The decision of the House Democratic leadership to block the Colombian free-trade agreement damages democracy and reinforces anti-American presidents in Latin America, according to a former ambassador from Costa Rica.

“House members have sent a terrible signal to American allies [in the region],” said Ambassador Jaime Daremblum in an analysis of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s decision last week to prevent a vote on the trade agreement.

Mr. Daremblum, now director of the Center on Latin American Studies at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, noted that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is “easily the closest U.S. partner” in Central and South America. The free-trade agreement is also supported by right-of-center leaders like President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and left-of-center leaders like President Michelle Bachelet of Chile.

However, U.S. opposition to the agreement reinforces Hugo Chavez, the anti-American president of Venezuela, and his populist and left-wing counterparts in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, Mr. Daremblum wrote.

“Last week, the cause [of free trade] was dealt a significant blow when the House of Representatives changed its rules in order to delay a vote on the [free-trade agreement], which was signed [by Mr. Uribe and President Bush] 17 months ago,” Mr. Daremblum said.

“Make no mistake: Latin American leaders will take notice. There is currently an ideological struggle raging across the region. While the president of Venezuela … tries to export his populist-authoritarian ‘revolution,’ … Colombia continues to show that democracy and free markets offer the best path to economic and social progress.”

Mr. Daremblum recalled that Colombia once enjoyed bipartisan support in Washington, referring to President Clinton‘s support for “Plan Colombia,” which provided U.S. aid to fight drug trafficking. Drug lords also cooperate with Marxist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Today Democrats, who control Congress, are “pandering to anti-trade sentiment” among union leaders who comprise a key element of the Democratic Party, Mr. Daremblum wrote. Some opponents of the Colombia deal accuse Mr. Uribe’s government of human rights abuses, including the killing of union activists. They also complain of the government’s failure to disarm right-wing paramilitary groups.

The Colombian Embassy insists the Uribe government is “working to end the culture of impunity,” citing the convictions of more than 80 people for the murder of union leaders.

Mr. Daremblum urged Mrs. Pelosi to allow a vote on the free-trade agreement.

“We should remember that Plan Colombia was originally a bipartisan initiative started by the Clinton administration,” he said. “It is distressing that the U.S.-Colombia [free-trade agreement] has failed to garner similar support.”

Tibet support

Leaders of a key congressional human rights panel joined European colleagues this week in supporting Tibet in its struggle for “basic human freedoms” and autonomy from Chinese occupation. They also said the Olympic Games in China will present an opportunity “to reaffirm” those goals.

They sent statements outlining their positions to President Bush, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Jacques Rogge, chairman of the International Olympic Committee.

“We express our strong support for the basic human freedoms and dignity of the Tibetan people and their yearning for autonomy and cultural respect,” said the statement signed by Sen.

Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat.

They serve as co-chairmen of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the U.S. arm of the Austrian-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

c Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail

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