Democrats for Free Trade
Former Clinton officials are urging Congress to ratify deals with Latin America.
12:00 AM, Sep 20, 2007 • By DUNCAN CURRIE
"Uribe started doing this in 2002," says Otto Reich, who served as a senior U.S. diplomat for Latin America during George W. Bush's first term. "It's not fair to say that he's just now replacing these officers." The irony is that, without his successful efforts to improve security, stamp out corruption, and demobilize the paramilitaries, the "parapolitics" scandal might not have emerged when it did. As Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, puts it, "If Uribe hadn't gone after these guys, all this stuff wouldn't be coming out." In some ways, then, Uribe is a victim of his own success.
Along with American labor groups, Democratic House leaders point to the brutal violence faced by Colombian trade unionists. They lodge valid concerns. But, again, to act as if Uribe has made no progress on this issue is grossly unfair. In fact, he has created new government programs designed to protect union members. "The labor union 'disappearances' have dropped precipitously," Sabatini notes. As the Economist reported in May, "Even on the unions' own figures, murders have fallen to less than two-fifths of the number in 2001."
Violence and corruption persist in Colombian society, which the aforementioned pro-FTA Democrats acknowledge in their letter. But they also stress the need for perspective: "Rather than hiding the scandals or minimizing them, Colombia is taking steps to root them out and cleanse the political system, even while recognizing that more must be done, including bringing to justice those who have committed crimes against unionists."
Goldman Sachs economist Alberto Ramos, a Latin America expert, has made a similar point. "If Congress doesn't pass it, they lose the opportunity to reinforce a link with an important ally in the region," he told Bloomberg News. "It would signal that U.S. commitment to free trade isn't as strong." Though Uribe may have saved his country from becoming a failed state, he may not be able to save his free trade deal. Which says more about the U.S. Congress than it does about the Colombian president.
Duncan Currie is managing editor of The American.