Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I strongly disagree with the editorial in today's The New York Times urging the passage of the free trade agreement with Colombia.

Writes the NYT:

"We don’t say it all that often, but President Bush is right: Congress should pass the Colombian free-trade agreement now.

"Mr. Bush signed the deal two years ago. The Democratic majority in Congress has refused to approve it out of a legitimate concern over the state of human rights in Colombia and less legitimate desires to pander to organized labor or deny Mr. Bush a foreign policy win.

"We believe that the trade pact would be good for America’s economy and workers. Rejecting it would send a dismal message to allies the world over that the United States is an unreliable partner and, despite all that it preaches, does not really believe in opening markets to trade. There is no more time to waste. If the lame-duck Congress does not approve the trade pact this year, prospects would dim considerably since it would lose the cover of the rule (formerly known as fast track) that provides for an up-or-down, no-amendment vote."

Colombia has long been a home to right wing death squads. These groups seem to have the backing of Colombia's ruling class and the Colombian army. Just recently a story has emerged how the Colombian military had a practice of kidnapping young men from poorer sections of Bogota to take to the jungle, kill them, and then proffer their bodies as successful head counts in the war against the FARC.

Furthermore, Colombia's president Alvaro Uribe is no friend of the rule of law or democracy. Uribe wanted Colombia's constitution changed so he could run for a third term. Furthermore, he ordered an attack of a FARC camp inside Ecuador, a clear violation of Ecuador's sovereignty and against international law.

And Uribe is a close ally of George W. Bush. That in itself should make Congress think twice before approving the trade agreement.

Instead of blindly giving Bush and Uribe what they want, Congress should wait until the new Obama administration comes on stage. Obama needs to do a thorough review of U.S. policy towards Latin America. In particular, he needs to change the current Bush policy of neglect and disinterest in Latin American events and politics.

Obama needs to cultivate Hugo Sanchez of Venezuela as well as Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador. There is no reason why Obama should continue the failed Bush policy of trying to make these leaders and their states "enemies" of the United States. I am sure they all look forward to getting rid of the Bush administration and starting a new more peaceful era with Obama.

Therefore, in disagreement with the NYT, no agreement over trade with Colombia at this point. Wait till Obama comes in. Then perhaps the U.S. can establish free trade pacts not only with Colombia but also with all the other countries in the region, including Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.

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