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Crafty_Dog
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« on: April 30, 2007, 02:26:16 PM »


WSJ


One Righteous Gringo
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
April 30, 2007; Page A14

Al Gore may not have known that he was taking the side of a former terrorist and ally of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez when he waded into Colombian politics 10 days ago. But that's not much consolation to 45 million Colombians who watched their country's already fragile international image suffer another unjust blow, this time at the hands of a former U.S. vice president.

The event was a climate-change conference in Miami, where Mr. Gore and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe were set to share the stage. At the last minute, Mr. Gore notified the conference organizers that he refused to appear with Mr. Uribe because of "deeply troubling" allegations of human- rights violations swirling around the Colombian government.

 
It is not clear whether the ex-veep knows that making unsubstantiated claims of human-rights violations has been a key guerrilla weapon for more than a decade, along with the more traditional practices of murdering, maiming and kidnapping civilians. Nor is it clear whether Mr. Gore knew that the recycled charges that caught his attention are being hyped by Colombian Sen. Gustavo Petro, a close friend of Mr. Chávez and former member of the pro-Cuban M-19 terrorist group. What we do know is that Mr. Gore's line of reasoning -- that Colombia is not good enough to rub shoulders with the righteous gringos -- is also being peddled by some Democrats in Congress, the AFL-CIO and other forces of anti-globalization. The endgame is all about killing the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

When Mr. Uribe got wind of Mr. Gore's decision to stand him up, he rightly interpreted its significance: Colombia is the victim of an international smear campaign that, if left unchecked, could undermine congressional support for the pending trade deal. Rather than let the whispering go on, Mr. Uribe elevated the matter, calling two press conferences over two days to refute the charges, which he says are damaging the country's interests. He also asked Mr. Gore to look "at Colombia closely" so he could see the progress that has been made.

The truth about Colombia's bloody struggle against criminal networks is not hard to discern. The tragedy originated more than five decades ago with ideological rebel warfare and was long supported by Fidel Castro. After Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993 and the Medellin and Cali drug cartels collapsed in the mid-1990s, the guerrillas moved into the narcotrafficking business and used this new source of financing to heighten the terror.

 
Mary Anastasia O'Grady discusses the implications of Al Gore's diplomatic "dis" of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
In a December 2001 monograph published by The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, Latin American insurgency and counterinsurgency expert David Spencer described the costs of the guerillas' "predatory business": "The federation of cattle ranchers reported that in 1997 they suffered losses of $750 million, largely to guerrilla theft and extortion. The consequences of resisting these extortive taxes is severe and includes kidnapping, death, and destruction of property." As Mr. Spencer explained, the urban rich avoided much of the terrorism; the vulnerable were the "small, independent farmers, ranchers, professionals, and merchants."

Lacking resources and a plan of action, the state did little to protect innocents. So the rural population organized self-defense units that became known as paramilitaries. Many of these groups later morphed into criminal enterprises.

Mr. Uribe, whose father was murdered by guerrillas, was elected governor of the state of Antioquia in 1995. He inherited a mess. "Guerrillas were all over the state," he told me in a 1997 interview in Medellin. "They were kidnapping, drug trafficking, keeping illegal plantations. Against them were the paramilitary. Wherever guerrillas arrived in one place, sooner or later paramilitary arrived there too, committing many similar crimes."

To confront the chaos, the governor made increasing the presence of the state a priority and launched the "convivirs." These legal civic organizations were citizens' intelligence networks designed to help the army and police identify and pursue guerrillas, paramilitary groups, narcotraffickers and common criminals in the countryside.

It was later learned that some of the convivirs had links to paramilitaries. This shouldn't be surprising since both groups shared a common enemy. But to the extent that such collusion existed, one can hardly blame it on Mr. Uribe. The concept of engaging the public in helping to strengthen the state's law-enforcement capabilities is a perfectly defensible strategy. Of course, the guerrillas didn't like it. They suffered major setbacks while Antioquian peasants, farmers, ranchers, banana workers and rural weekenders all enjoyed newfound security.

Mr. Uribe ran for president in 2002 on a promise to defeat organized crime. He has produced impressive results. According to national police statistics, homicides dropped to 17,277 in 2006 from 28,837 in 2002. Kidnappings fell to 687 from 2,883 over the same period and terrorist attacks were cut by more than two-thirds. Since 2002, some 42,000 illegally armed combatants have put down their weapons and 1,342 paramilitary have been killed.

As to charges against his former intelligence chief, based mainly on the testimony of one rather dubious witness, the justice system is working. It is in no need of Mr. Gore's condescending prejudice.

Though Colombia is not yet pacified, voters have confidence in Mr. Uribe. The economy has recovered and the government is working to protect the environment against the degradation caused by coca growers destroying forests and cocaine labs polluting rivers. There is also a special program to provide security for members of labor unions. Mr. Uribe was re-elected last year and today maintains an approval rating of better than 70%.

Mr. Uribe's popularity is a source of much frustration for his adversaries, especially as the FTA -- considered his baby -- gains momentum. Colombians widely favor the deal and it is now sailing through the legislature. Thus the export of the tired, old allegations of human-rights violations from Mr. Petro. How ironic that Colombia's anti-American hard-left, normally obsessed with trashing Uncle Sam, is now rushing to Washington to get help in defeating the will of its own people.

Mr. Uribe will be in Washington this week to meet with members of Congress and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney to make his case for the FTA. In the end, it may turn out that Mr. Gore did him a favor by bringing this subject to the fore. Union activists who don't want any more U.S. free trade agreements have every right to lobby against them. But they should make their case on facts, not on politically motivated and unsubstantiated charges.

Write to O'Grady@wsj.com.
« Last Edit: March 24, 2008, 11:06:31 AM by Crafty_Dog » Logged
Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #1 on: March 24, 2008, 11:06:58 AM »

Bogotá Eyes the Irish Model
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
March 24, 2008; Page A14

When Colombia's trade minister visited the Journal's New York offices two weeks ago, the last thing I expected to come up in our conversation was Ireland. To my surprise, it was the first subject he raised.

No sooner had Luis Plata sat down then he started talking about the Irish economic transformation -- from impoverished ugly duckling to swanky swan of Europe in just two decades -- and why a similar growth model is just what Colombia needs.

Some of the necessary policy adjustments are already under way in Bogotá, he said, and with any success, the reforms can be deepened. But the big question mark is whether the U.S. Congress will approve the pending Free Trade Agreement. The FTA, Mr. Plata explained, is as important to Colombia's growth as European Union membership has been to Ireland's.

To think that Democrats might undermine Mr. Plata's visionary agenda is troubling. In 2006, U.S. official development assistance aimed at alleviating poverty around the globe was $23.5 billion and it was pretty much money down a rat hole. That's because development requires economic liberalization, and leaders of poor countries have little incentive to disturb the status quo of monopolies and protectionism that put them in power. Their incentives are even less when rich-country handouts are flowing.

Now along comes Colombia, with a leader -- President Álvaro Uribe -- who is willing to risk political capital to open domestic markets, cut taxes and spur competition in a bid to grow fast à la Ireland. All his government asks from Washington is two-way trade, but Democrats want to slam the door in his face.

Before Mr. Plata became trade minister last year, he headed a government export agency. "We starting going to Ireland several years ago, he says, "because we were looking at countries around the world that had been successful in attracting foreign direct investment. What we found was that Ireland had lowered its corporate tax rate from 40% to 12.5%," and as a result "was attracting investment, had lowered tax evasion and had increased tax collection. We went back to Colombia and said, 'why don't we just bring [our corporate rate] from 38% to 12.5%.'"

That wasn't a popular view with Colombia's treasury department. "It got me kicked out of their offices," Mr. Plata recalls.

No surprise there. Bean counters in every treasury in Latin America have tax-cut phobia in their DNA. It explains why they often get jobs at the International Monetary Fund in Washington after the collapse of the governments they've served back home. At the fund they can put into practice their deeply held convictions that the only responsible fiscal policy is one built on a static analysis to discover the "right" tax rate. Embracing the notion that production creates its own demand, and that government revenues expand under a low-tax regime, is considered high-risk behavior.

Mr. Plata is more sympathetic toward his treasury colleagues. He says that they have to balance the medium- and long-term benefits of tax cutting with the more immediate need to finance the government. Nevertheless, he was convinced that Ireland's experience could be applied to Colombia. Despite the initial reaction, his team "went to work" on the idea of attracting investment through tax cuts.

In a perfect world, he would have won a flat corporate rate. But he had to compromise and instead came up with the "single-enterprise free-trade zone." It expands the low-tax treatment that companies receive when they are located within a "free trade zone" -- normally an industrial park -- to any company that meets certain investment criteria. Businesses (excluding mining and oil) that qualify by meeting minimum investment amounts and employment targets now pay a 15% flat tax instead of 33%. They also import all raw materials with no tariffs and pay no value-added tax.

In addition to offering these tax advantages, the government is writing "stability contracts" to guarantee that the rules will not change when presidents do. It is also working to reduce the regulatory burden, since red tape is one of the most common complaints from foreign investors.

The "single-enterprise free-trade zone" was launched last May, and to date it has attracted about $864 million in foreign direct investment. That number would be higher under a pure flat tax, and if Colombia is to rival the Irish miracle, it will have to move in that direction. But to persuade the treasury to adopt a broad-based flat tax, Mr. Plata will have to show some results with his initial experiment.

That's why the FTA is so important. Companies investing in Colombia are looking beyond the domestic market and, as the minister notes, the recent dustup with Venezuela -- in which President Hugo Chávez threatened to close the border -- demonstrates the fragility of Colombia's export market. About half of Colombian exports now go to Venezuela and Ecuador. Access to the U.S. market and to duty-free imports from the U.S. are both crucial for producers.

All of this begs the question of why congressional Democrats want to reject the Colombian trade agreement. They say it's because Mr. Uribe hasn't done enough to quell violence against labor leaders in the country. But murders are down dramatically, and as Mr. Plata says, "you can't make the case that killing the FTA will make things better."

What will make things better is investment, which is fundamental to reducing poverty. Peru, Mexico and Central America all have FTAs with the U.S., which means that Colombia is automatically disadvantaged if it is denied one. And that could harm national security, which is so fragile. As Mr. Plata pointed out, "You don't win the peace with soldiers alone. You have to have a functioning economy." Surely Democrats can't be against that.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2008, 10:17:47 AM »

 FARC Fan's Notes
March 25, 2008; Page A22
A hard drive recovered from the computer of a killed Colombian guerrilla has offered more insights into the opposition of House Democrats to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

A military strike three weeks ago killed Raúl Reyes, No. 2 in command of the FARC, Colombia's most notorious terrorist group. The Reyes hard drive reveals an ardent effort to do business directly with the FARC by Congressman James McGovern (D., Mass.), a leading opponent of the free-trade deal. Mr. McGovern has been working with an American go-between, who has been offering the rebels help in undermining Colombia's elected and popular government.

Mr. McGovern's press office says the Congressman is merely working at the behest of families whose relatives are held as FARC kidnap hostages. However, his go-between's letters reveal more than routine intervention. The intervenor with the FARC is James C. Jones, who the Congressman's office says is a "development expert and a former consultant to the United Nations." Accounts of Mr. Jones's exchanges with the FARC appeared in Colombia's Semana magazine on March 15. This Mr. Jones should not be confused with the former Congressman and ambassador to Mexico of the same name from Oklahoma.

"Receive my warm greetings, as always, from Washington," Mr. Jones began in a letter to the rebels last fall. "The big news is that I spoke for several hours with the Democratic Congressman James McGovern. In the meeting we had the opportunity to exchange some ideas that will be, I believe, of interest to the FARC-EP [popular army]."

Mr. Jones added that "a fundamental problem is that the FARC does not have, strategically, a spokesman that can communicate directly with persons of influence in my country like Mr. McGovern." Semana reports that in the documents Mr. Jones "rules himself out as the spokesman but offers himself as a 'bridge' of communication between the FARC and the congressman." Semana says when it spoke with Mr. Jones, he verified the letter and explained that "he made the offer because the guerrillas need interlocutors if they want to achieve peace and that it is a mistake to isolate them."

But communications among FARC rebels suggest the goal was to isolate Colombia's government. A letter that Reyes wrote to top FARC commander Manuel Marulanda on October 26 reads: "According to [Jones's] viewpoint, [President Álvaro] Uribe is increasingly discredited in the U.S. . . He believes that the safe haven [for the rebels] in the counties can be had for reasons mentioned. Congressional Democrats have invited him to Washington to talk about the Colombian crisis in which the principal theme is the swap."

Semana reports that Mr. Jones made some proposals to the FARC, including a Caracas meeting with representatives of Venezuela, Colombia, the FARC, other South American countries, U.S. Congressmen and the Catholic Church. "It would be almost impossible for Uribe to reject such a meeting," Mr. Jones wrote, "without burning himself a lot, nationally and internationally. If he persists in being against it, I have understood that there are ways to pressure him from my country [the U.S.]."

In a letter to Semana, Mr. Jones said his words were taken out of context. He says he is not in favor of the "violent methods of the guerrilla" or "the military solutions" of the government. He had only a professional relationship with the FARC and had to address them as he did because he had to build trust. Mr. McGovern's office says it knew what Mr. Jones was doing and engaged with him because "we need to find an interlocutor who could discuss these things including the safe haven" for the guerrillas.

We think the documents reveal something else entirely: Some Democrats oppose the Colombia trade deal because they sympathize more with FARC's terrorists than with a U.S. antiterror ally.
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2008, 02:17:15 PM »

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Files provided by Colombian officials from computers they say were captured in a cross-border raid in Ecuador this month appear to tie Venezuela’s government to efforts to secure arms for Colombia’s largest insurgency.

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Times Topics: Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)Officials taking part in Colombia’s investigation of the computers provided The New York Times with copies of more than 20 files, some of which also showed contributions from the rebels to the 2006 campaign of Ecuador’s leftist president, Rafael Correa.

If verified, the files would offer rare insight into the cloak-and-dagger nature of Latin America’s longest-running guerrilla conflict, including what appeared to be the killing of a Colombian government spy with microchips implanted in her body, a crime apparently carried out by the rebels in their jungle redoubt.

The files would also potentially link the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador to the leftist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which the United States says is a terrorist group and has fought to overthrow Colombia’s government for four decades.

Though it was impossible to authenticate the files independently, the Colombian officials said their government had invited Interpol to verify the files. The officials did not want to be identified while any Interpol inquiry was under way.

Both the United States and Colombia, Washington’s staunchest ally in the region, have a strong interest in undercutting President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who has sought to counter United States influence by forming his own leftist bloc in the region. But the Colombian officials who provided the computer files adamantly vouched for them.

The files contained touches that suggested authenticity: they were filled with revolutionary jargon, passages in numerical code, missives about American policy in Latin America and even brief personal reflections like one by a senior rebel commander on the joy of becoming a grandfather.

Other senior Colombian officials said the files made public so far only scratched the surface of the captured archives, risking new friction with Venezuela and Ecuador, both of whom have dismissed the files as fakes.

Vice President Francisco Santos said Colombia’s stability was at risk if explicit support from its neighbors for the FARC, the country’s largest armed insurgency, was proved true. “The idea that using weapons to topple a democratic government has not been censured,” Mr. Santos said in an interview, “is not only stupid — it is frankly frightening.”

Colombia’s relations with its two Andean neighbors veered suddenly toward armed conflict after Colombian forces raided a FARC camp inside Ecuador on March 1, killing 26 people, including a top FARC commander, and capturing the computers, according to the Colombians.

Though tensions ebbed after a summit meeting of Latin American nations in the Dominican Republic this month, the matter of the computer files has threatened to reignite the diplomatic crisis caused by the raid.

Shortly after the crisis erupted, Colombian officials began releasing a small portion of the computer files, some of which they said showed efforts by Mr. Chavez’s government to provide financial support for the FARC.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said in an interview that officials had obtained more than 16,000 files from three computers belonging to Luis Édgar Devia Silva, a commander known by his nom de guerre, Raúl Reyes, who was killed in the raid. Two other hard drives were also captured, he said.


“Everything has been accessed and everything is being validated by Interpol,” Mr. Santos said, adding that he expected the work on the validation to be completed by the end of April. “It is a great deal of information that is extremely valuable and important.”

Mr. Santos, who said the computers survived the raid because they were in metal casing, strongly defended Colombia’s military foray into Ecuador, which drew condemnation in other parts of Latin America as a violation of Ecuador’s sovereignty.

“Personally I do not regret a thing, absolutely nothing, but I am a minister of a government that has agreed this type of action would not be repeated,” he said. “Of course, this depends on our neighbors collaborating on the fight against terrorism.”

For his part, Mr. Chávez, in a meeting with foreign journalists last week in Caracas, lashed out at Colombia’s government and mocked the files.

“The main weapon they have now is the computer, the supposed computer of Raúl Reyes,” Mr. Chávez said. “This computer is like à la carte service, giving you whatever you want. You want steak? Or fried fish? How would you like it prepared? You’ll get it however the empire decides.”

The correspondence also pointed to warm relations between Venezuela’s government and the FARC.
==========
Page 2 of 2)



One letter, dated Jan. 25, 2007, by Iván Márquez, a member of the FARC’s seven-member secretariat, discussed a meeting with a Venezuelan official called Carvajal. “Carvajal,” Mr. Márquez wrote, “left with the pledge of bringing an arms dealer from Panama.”


Times Topics: Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)Officials here said they believed that the official in question was Gen. Hugo Carvajal, the director of military intelligence in Venezuela, a confidant of Mr. Chávez and perhaps Venezuela’s most powerful intelligence official.

In other correspondence from September 2004 after the killing by the FARC of six Venezuelan soldiers and one Venezuelan engineer on Venezuelan soil that month, General Carvajal’s longstanding ties to the guerrillas also come into focus. In those letters, the guerrillas describe talks with General Carvajal, Mr. Chávez’s emissary to deal with the issue.

“Today I met with General Hugo Carvajal,” a FARC commander wrote in on letter dated Sept. 23, 2004. “He said he guarded the secret hope that what happened in Apure,” the rebel wrote in reference to the Venezuelan border state where the killings took place, “was the work of a force different from our own.”

Officials in General Carvajal’s office at the General Directorate of Military Intelligence in Caracas did not respond to requests for comment on the letters. Mr. Chávez responded to a report earlier this year in Colombia claiming that General Carvajal provided logistical assistance to the FARC by calling it an “attack on the revolution” he has led in Venezuela.

Another file recovered from Mr. Devia’s computers, dated a week earlier on Jan. 18, 2007, described efforts by the FARC’s secretariat to secure Mr. Chávez’s assistance for buying arms and obtaining a $250 million loan, “to be paid when we take power.”

The FARC, a Marxist-inspired insurgency that has persisted for four decades, finances itself largely through cocaine trafficking and kidnappings for ransom. But other files from the computers suggested that Colombia’s counterinsurgency effort, financed in large part by $600 million a year in aid from Washington, was making those activities less lucrative for the FARC, forcing it to consider options like selling Venezuelan gasoline at a profit in Colombia.

The release of the files comes at a delicate time when some lawmakers in Washington are pressing for Venezuela to be included on a list of countries that are state sponsors of terrorism. But with Venezuela remaining a leading supplier of oil to the United States, such a move is considered unlikely because of the limits on trade it would entail.

Moreover, interpretations of the files from Mr. Devia’s computers have already led to some mistakes.

For instance, El Tiempo, Colombia’s leading daily newspaper, issued an apology this month to Gustavo Larrea, Ecuador’s security minister, after publishing a photograph obtained from the computers in which the newspaper claimed Mr. Larrea was shown meeting with Mr. Devia at a FARC camp. In fact, the photograph was of Patricio Etchegaray, an official with the Communist Party in Argentina.

Still, the files from Mr. Devia’s computers are expected to haunt relations between Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela for some time.

For instance, one piece of correspondence dated Nov. 21, 2006, and circulated among the FARC’s secretariat, describes a $100,000 donation to the campaign of Mr. Correa, Ecuador’s president.

Of that amount, $50,000 came from the FARC’s “Eastern bloc,” a militarily strong faction that operates in eastern Colombia, and $20,000 from the group’s “Southern bloc,” according to the document.

President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia referred this month to files from Mr. Devia’s computers showing financing of Mr. Correa’s campaign by the FARC, but he stopped short of releasing them after tensions eased at the summit meeting in the Dominican Republic.

“Any archive is not valid until it is verified,” said Pedro Artieda, a spokesman at the Ecuadorean Foreign Ministry, when asked for comment. “Therefore, the government cannot comment on something that is not confirmed.” Mr. Correa had previously disputed the campaign-finance claims based on the computers files, saying they lacked “technical and legal” validity.

Other files offer insight into the methods employed both by the FARC and Colombia’s government in their four-decade war. In one letter by Mr. Devia dated Jan. 5, 2007, to Manuel Marulanda, the most senior member of the FARC’s secretariat, he described a woman in their ranks who was discovered to be a government spy.

“The new thing here,” Mr. Devia wrote, “was that she had two microchips, one under her breast and the other beneath her jaw.”

Mr. Devia went on to describe the reaction to this discovery, explaining in the rebels’ slang that she was given “a course.”

“Yesterday they threw her into the hole after proving what she was,” he wrote, “and giving her the counsel of war.”


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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #4 on: April 07, 2008, 11:27:59 AM »

Smoot-Chavez
Democrats play politics with trade. America may end up paying the price.
April 7, 2008
Trade legislation debates are usually about dry-as-dust topics like reciprocity and dumping. But sometimes they really matter. Take the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which the Bush administration will send to Congress this week. If Congress rejects it, the loss wouldn't be just measured in dollors or pesos. It could have profound geopolitical effects that would hurt the U.S.

Colombia is a democratic ally of the U.S. in a tough neighborhood. Alvaro Uribe, its president, has been battling a left-wing insurgency that has used kidnapping, murder and drug trafficking in an attempt to overthrow his government. An impressive body of evidence shows the insurgents, known as the FARC, have been encouraged and financed by Venezuela's strongman, Hugo Chavez. Mr. Chavez, who already has allies in charge of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, would love to extend his influence in Latin America.

The trade agreement shouldn't be controversial. Colombia's economy is doing well, with growth rates of some 6% a year, and more than 90% of its exports to the U.S. already are duty-free under previous agreements. The new proposed trade pact would strip dozens of high tariffs Colombia erects to restrict the flow of U.S. goods and services in.

American unions demanded that the agreement incorporate labor and environmental standards. They got their wish, but that wasn't enough for some unions, which leaned on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to make opposition to the agreement a theme of their presidential campaigns.

* * *

Although Mrs. Clinton has long been a fierce critic of the accord, it was revealed last week that her top strategist Mark Penn was hired by the Colombian government to push the agreement through. Mr. Penn promptly called a recent meeting he had with Colombian officials on the agreement an "error in judgment" and promptly left their employ. Yesterday he quit the campaign too.

The agreement's supporters held out hope for Mr. Obama. But faced with a critical primary in heavily unionized Pennsylvania later this month, Mr. Obama took the occasion of his speech before the AFL-CIO convention in Philadelphia last week to announce that he too would oppose it. "The violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements," he said.

But in truth, the Uribe government has made great strides in reducing violence in Colombia. Since 2001, the number of kidnappings has dropped by over 80%, acts of terror are down over 75%, and the murder rate associated with trade unionists is down almost 80%.

President Uribe made clear how disappointed he was that the Democratic front-runner had chosen domestic politics over geopolitical stability: "I deplore the fact that Sen. Obama . . . should be unaware of Colombia's efforts," he said in a statement. "I think it is for political calculations that he is making a statement that does not correspond to Colombia's reality."

The simple truth is that the opposition to the trade agreement--from the Democratic presidential contenders to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi--has nothing to do with reality. Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, admitted as much recently: "It's not the substance on the ground--it's the politics in the air."

* * *

There was another period when raw politics was allowed to trump what many in Congress privately admitted was common sense. In the spring of 1930, as the economic downturn set off by the previous year's stock market crash set in, Congress was debating the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill that sought to raise U.S. import barriers to record levels.

Most of the leading economists of the day opposed Smoot-Hawley. A front-page New York Times headline on May 5, 1930, read: "1,028 Economists Ask Hoover to Veto Pending Tariff Bill." But for entirely selfish and shortsighted reasons, both Congress and President Hoover went along with the protectionist hysteria. As a result, the Great Depression was probably deepened and extended for years.

Today, another no-brainer trade vote is before Congress. The foreign-policy benefits of the agreement are immense and the economic costs are minimal. "This is a test of whether the Democratic Congress is ready to accept the responsibilities of the majority," says Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.

Everyone plays politics with trade. But there are times when the stakes are too important. The Colombia agreement is another example of when politics must take a back seat for a larger good. We certainly know how Hugo Chavez is rooting for the congressional vote to turn out.
WSJ
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« Reply #5 on: May 19, 2008, 11:43:30 PM »

A FARC Fan's Notes
March 25, 2008; Page A22

A hard drive recovered from the computer of a killed Colombian guerrilla has offered more insights into the opposition of House Democrats to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

A military strike three weeks ago killed Raúl Reyes, No. 2 in command of the FARC, Colombia's most notorious terrorist group. The Reyes hard drive reveals an ardent effort to do business directly with the FARC by Congressman James McGovern (D., Mass.), a leading opponent of the free-trade deal. Mr. McGovern has been working with an American go-between, who has been offering the rebels help in undermining Colombia's elected and popular government.

Mr. McGovern's press office says the Congressman is merely working at the behest of families whose relatives are held as FARC kidnap hostages. However, his go-between's letters reveal more than routine intervention.

The intervenor with the FARC is James C. Jones, who the Congressman's office says is a "development expert and a former consultant to the United Nations." Accounts of Mr. Jones's exchanges with the FARC appeared in Colombia's Semana magazine on March 15. This Mr. Jones should not be confused with the former Congressman and ambassador to Mexico of the same name from Oklahoma.

"Receive my warm greetings, as always, from Washington," Mr. Jones began in a letter to the rebels last fall. "The big news is that I spoke for several hours with the Democratic Congressman James McGovern. In the meeting we had the opportunity to exchange some ideas that will be, I believe, of interest to the FARC-EP [popular army]."

Mr. Jones added that "a fundamental problem is that the FARC does not have, strategically, a spokesman that can communicate directly with persons of influence in my country like Mr. McGovern." Semana reports that in the documents Mr. Jones "rules himself out as the spokesman but offers himself as a 'bridge' of communication between the FARC and the congressman." Semana says when it spoke with Mr. Jones, he verified the letter and explained that "he made the offer because the guerrillas need interlocutors if they want to achieve peace and that it is a mistake to isolate them."

But communications among FARC rebels suggest the goal was to isolate Colombia's government. A letter that Reyes wrote to top FARC commander Manuel Marulanda on October 26 reads: "According to [Jones's] viewpoint, [President Álvaro] Uribe is increasingly discredited in the U.S. . . He believes that the safe haven [for the rebels] in the counties can be had for reasons mentioned. Congressional Democrats have invited him to Washington to talk about the Colombian crisis in which the principal theme is the swap."

Semana reports that Mr. Jones made some proposals to the FARC, including a Caracas meeting with representatives of Venezuela, Colombia, the FARC, other South American countries, U.S. Congressmen and the Catholic Church. "It would be almost impossible for Uribe to reject such a meeting," Mr. Jones wrote, "without burning himself a lot, nationally and internationally. If he persists in being against it, I have understood that there are ways to pressure him from my country [the U.S.]."

In a letter to Semana, Mr. Jones said his words were taken out of context. He says he is not in favor of the "violent methods of the guerrilla" or "the military solutions" of the government. He had only a professional relationship with the FARC and had to address them as he did because he had to build trust. Mr. McGovern's office says it knew what Mr. Jones was doing and engaged with him because "we need to find an interlocutor who could discuss these things including the safe haven" for the guerrillas.

We think the documents reveal something else entirely: Some Democrats oppose the Colombia trade deal because they sympathize more with FARC's terrorists than with a U.S. antiterror ally. 


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