Colombia deserves a cold handshake rather than a warm abrazo from the Bush Administration

Colombia deserves a cold handshake rather than a warm abrazo from the Bush Administration

President Bush has sent the proposed Colombian FTA to Congress for legislative action. He stressed the fact that Colombia is a good friend, and, on an “urgent basis,” as well as on economic and security grounds, it deserved to be rewarded by the Democratic-controlled congress with an affirmative vote.

In order to justify a free trade pact with Bogotá, President Bush repeatedly presents Colombia as a thriving democracy and President Uribe as a committed constitutionalist. In fact, Uribe for years has had a sinister history of sanctioning human rights violations, compromising the work of local human rights agencies and jeopardizing their personal security by publicly accusing them as being all but indistinguishable from leftist guerillas. At the present moment, Colombia’s attorney general is investigating corruption charges which he has lodged against a large number of legislators belonging to Uribe’s own party, which involve claims that the president’s political allies were directly linked to the extreme rightwing death squads known as the AUC, to which Uribe also has been repeatedly linked. Uribe also managed to undermine the core of Washington’s anti-drug strategy in Colombia by allowing AUC members to plead guilty, and receive minimum prison terms, thus obtain immunity against being extradited to the U.S. to stand trial for their drug-trafficking activities. This initiative in effect torpedoed the heart of Washington’s anti-drug strategy in Colombia.

The Bush administration is grateful that Uribe has been a strong backer of a distorted U.S. policy in the region, which has brought U.S.-Latin American relations almost to the point of being dysfunctional.

But what may be good for the White House and the Nariño Palace is not necessarily good for America or Latin America. The fact that Colombia is one of the few friendly faces that Washington can count on in the hemisphere is an indication of how isolated this administration is in the region, and the irreversible damage it has done to any prospects for an honorable relationship based on of constructive engagement with the rest of the hemisphere.

Today, Colombia is probably the worst human rights violator in Latin America and is a nation where labor leaders and democratic political activists are murdered with impunity, to the indifference of Colombian authorities. Colombia is without any bona fide claims to be granted a free trade relationship with the U.S. and Congress would be wise to reject any further trade concessions to Bogotá, at a time that U.S. workers are suffering from Bush’s neglect, if not indifference, with the fate of Colombian workers scarcely being any kinder.

Larry Birns
Director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs