The Blog

Colombia Ups Ante on Free Trade Agreement

4:11 PM, May 14, 2008 • By BRIAN FAUGHNAN
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A central complaint of Congressional Democrats in explaining their opposition to a vote on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement was to cite the alleged failure of that country to do enough to oppose paramilitary groups. President Alvaro Uribe is therefore seeking to take away that objection:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's main excuse for trying to kill the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is that Colombian President Álvaro Uribe winks at atrocities by his country's illegal paramilitary groups. The charge has always been false, and yesterday Mr. Uribe proved it by extraditing 14 "para" leaders to the U.S.

The 14 include major paramilitary leaders who have been engaged in a long struggle against FARC terrorists. Mr. Uribe has been fighting the FARC even as he has tried to reduce violence by the "paras," who have sometimes been complicit in killing trade unionists. The 14 have been serving time in Colombian prisons for various offenses and are wanted in the U.S. for drug trafficking. They had been arrested under a Justice and Peace law that allowed them to avoid extradition if they agreed to certain conditions.

The real reasons the trade deal has been killed -- at least for the foreseeable future -- have more to do with paying off union backers, dealing the president a defeat, and gaining a bargaining chip for negotiations down the road. To the extent that undercuts an important U.S. bilateral relationship... well, that's a price Congress is willing to pay.