BY CHRONICLE EDITORS
The U.S. free trade agreement with Colombia is now officially stalled in the U.S. Congress thanks to Democrat lawmakers that are using a combination of unfair standards and outright incorrect information.
Democrat legislators are now opposing the FTA because they claim that Colombia is too unsafe for union leaders, while they also question Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's ties to rightist paramilitaries.
It is a sad day when US legislators use such ignorance to stall a historically important agreement.
Let's set the record straight. Uribe is the best thing that has happened to Colombia since slice bread. He has waged a tireless and intelligent war against organized crime, whether it be rightist paramilitaries, leftist guerrillas or drug traffickers.
The results have been a significant reduction in crime and violence, which in turn has led to an economic boom and record high foreign investment. Colombia's economy last year grew by 6.8 percent, its best result in 28 years. In the first quarter this year it grew by 8.09 percent. Meanwhile, foreign investment went from $2.1 billion in 2002 — the year Uribe took office — to $6.3 billion last year.
UNION MURDERS DECLINE
The attacks against union leaders have actually declined in Colombia since Uribe became president in August 2002. In 2001 — the last year before he became president — there were 168 union murders in Colombia. In 2003 — the first full year after he became president — there were 52. In 2005 that figure fell to 14. However, last year they reached 25, marking an increase compared to the previous year, yet still considerably better than before Uribe became president.
As for rightist paramilitaries, their terror has been reduced thank to Uribe's amnesty plan, which demobilized more than 30,000 paramilitary members. All in all, the number of deaths in Colombia have fallen strongly — from 27,841 in 2001 to 17,479 last year.
Instead of rewarding Uribe for the impressive results these five years — including a decline in union murders and paramilitary violence — Democrat legislators are punishing him for an increase in union murders last year.
CHAVEZ THREAT GROWS
All this at a time when Colombia's neighbor, Venezuela, represents a growing threat to democracy in Latin America and U.S. national security. This week, Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez, plans to travel to Russia for another round of arms purchases - this time submarines, no less. (That trip will be followed by visits to infamous rogue states like Belarus and Iran).
Uribe, in contrast, has been a firm U.S. ally in Latin America. And unlike Chavez, he is welcoming U.S. companies with open arms, whether they want to invest in oil or other sectors.
Rather than a sincere concern about Colombia's human rights situation, we therefore suspect the Democrat legislators opposing the FTA with Colombia are cozying up to U.S. unions — which typically oppose FTAs in principle — at a time when the United States is preparing for a presidential election next year. The fact that they are getting their arguments from Uribe's free-market opponents at home doesn't make things better.
If concern about Colombia's well-being is truly at the heart of the Democrat opponents of the FTA, they should reverse their position and vote for the Colombia-U.S. FTA immediately.
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