Commentary Magazine


Topic: Alvaro Uribe

Drama Brewing in Colombia

Imagine if Teddy Roosevelt had not run himself against his protege William Howard Taft in 1912 but had sponsored another candidate who went on to beat both Taft and Woodrow Wilson. Or alternatively imagine a presidential election in which John McCain and Mitt Romney are battling it out not in the primaries but in the general election. 

No analogy is exact but that gives you a bit of the flavor of the Colombian presidential election. The first place finisher, with 29.25 percent, was former Finance Minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga. In second place was the incumbent president, Juan Manual Santos, with 25.69 percent. Since neither man got more than 50 percent (three other candidates split the rest of the vote), they will have a second-round runoff on June 15.

The numbers do not reveal the extraordinary drama behind the campaign, which was characterized by charges of cheating and skullduggery from both campaigns. Zuluaga came from almost nowhere to run ahead of an incumbent who was widely viewed as a shoo-in for reelection not long ago. This turn of events was due almost entirely to the intervention of former President Alvaro Uribe, who left office in 2010. Santos was his former defense minister and designated successor but, like TR turning on Taft, Uribe grew disenchanted with his protege, in no small part, one suspects, because Uribe misses the limelight. 

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Imagine if Teddy Roosevelt had not run himself against his protege William Howard Taft in 1912 but had sponsored another candidate who went on to beat both Taft and Woodrow Wilson. Or alternatively imagine a presidential election in which John McCain and Mitt Romney are battling it out not in the primaries but in the general election. 

No analogy is exact but that gives you a bit of the flavor of the Colombian presidential election. The first place finisher, with 29.25 percent, was former Finance Minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga. In second place was the incumbent president, Juan Manual Santos, with 25.69 percent. Since neither man got more than 50 percent (three other candidates split the rest of the vote), they will have a second-round runoff on June 15.

The numbers do not reveal the extraordinary drama behind the campaign, which was characterized by charges of cheating and skullduggery from both campaigns. Zuluaga came from almost nowhere to run ahead of an incumbent who was widely viewed as a shoo-in for reelection not long ago. This turn of events was due almost entirely to the intervention of former President Alvaro Uribe, who left office in 2010. Santos was his former defense minister and designated successor but, like TR turning on Taft, Uribe grew disenchanted with his protege, in no small part, one suspects, because Uribe misses the limelight. 

The ostensible cause of their break were the peace talks that Santos has launched to get FARC, the long-running rebel group which has been battling the state since the mid-1960s, to finally lay down its arms. Uribe views the negotiations, which have been going on in Havana, as a sell-out to the rebels and Zuluaga has echoed his view. Santos, on the other hand, believes that the talks, which have already made progress, have the potential to bring peace.

To an outsider, it is not always easy to tell why Uribe is so worked up over talks being pursued by his former partner in the battle against FARC. The fact that peace is now possible is due in large measure to the policies that Uribe implemented while in office. But if Zuluaga wins it is likely that the peace talks will end, although Zuluaga has left himself an opening to continue negotiations if FARC shows its sincerity by stopping its armed struggle.

Whatever happens, Colombia is likely to remain Washington’s closest ally in Latin America. Indeed, while other countries in the region are seeing the emergence of anti-Yanqui leaders inspired by the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Colombia is seeing a run-off between two conservative, hawkish, pro-American candidates. That’s good news.

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A Modern and Prosperous Colombia

Too bad that the Summit of the Americas this past weekend in Cartagena will be remembered as the “prostitution summit,” after the scandal involving Secret Service agents allegedly hiring local professionals.  It should have been known as an event celebrating Colombia’s extraordinary success.

Written off as a failed state only a decade ago, that nation has bounced back to push back the FARC insurgency, establish law and order across most of its territory, and to spark robust economic growth. I am not the only one to dub this “The Colombian Miracle,” as I did in this 2009 article–that is also the headline of a Washington Post article a few days ago which notes that Colombia is no longer associated with kidnapping and terrorism.

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Too bad that the Summit of the Americas this past weekend in Cartagena will be remembered as the “prostitution summit,” after the scandal involving Secret Service agents allegedly hiring local professionals.  It should have been known as an event celebrating Colombia’s extraordinary success.

Written off as a failed state only a decade ago, that nation has bounced back to push back the FARC insurgency, establish law and order across most of its territory, and to spark robust economic growth. I am not the only one to dub this “The Colombian Miracle,” as I did in this 2009 article–that is also the headline of a Washington Post article a few days ago which notes that Colombia is no longer associated with kidnapping and terrorism.

This is a new country that has “attracted record levels of foreign investment and whose economy grew nearly 6 percent last year, that was awarded investment-grade status and can borrow more cheaply than some countries in Western Europe.”

Much of this achievement was due to the extraordinary presidency of Alvaro Uribe, one of the greatest counter-insurgency leaders of the past century, who between 2002 and 2010 all but defeated FARC and created the security which has made prosperity possible. His achievement was aided and extended by his onetime defense minister turned president, Juan Manuel Santos, who welcomed President Obama and other world leaders to his country. Their leadership shows what is possible to achieve against great odds even when facing an entrenched and ruthless insurgency–it is a lesson that Hamid Karzai and his would-be successors should pay attention to.

It is fitting that Colombia’s progress, which was helped by American aid, is now at last recognized by the establishment of a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, made possible by Obama finally overriding the obstinate objections of American labor unions to this pact which will benefit both nations. It is only a shame that this agreement, which was concluded six years ago, has had to wait so long to be implemented.

 

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Colombia: Another Obama Victim

Both the Washington Post‘s and the Wall Street Journal‘s editors rightly praise the outcome of the election in Colombia and implore the Obama administration not to treat this president as poorly as it treated the last one. The Post explains:

Juan Manuel Santos has demonstrated that pro-American, pro-free-market politicians still have life in Latin America. Mr. Santos, who romped to victory in Colombia’s presidential runoff on Sunday, has no interest in courting Iran, unlike Brazil’s Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva. He has rejected the authoritarian socialism of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. A former journalist with degrees from the University of Kansas and Harvard, he values free media and independent courts. His biggest priority may be ratifying and implementing a free-trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. So the question raised by Mr. Santos’s election is whether the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders will greet this strong and needed U.S. ally with open arms — or with the arms-length disdain and protectionist stonewalling to which they subjected his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe. … The Obama administration, which has courted Mr. Lula and sought to improve relations with Venezuela and Cuba, has been cool to Colombia, recommending another 11 percent reduction in aid for next year and keeping the trade agreement on ice.

The Journal writes:

On Sunday 13 police and soldiers were killed by guerrillas trying to disrupt the vote. Mr. Santos has also challenged neighboring countries that provide a haven to the FARC. This triumph also ought to echo in Washington, where Democrats in Congress and the White House continue to deny a vote on the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. One liberal Democratic excuse has been concerns about Mr. Uribe’s security policies, but Colombia’s people have now spoken.

Like Mr. Uribe, Mr. Santos wants the free trade deal to force his country to face the discipline of global competition and turn Colombia into the next Chile or Taiwan. Such progress would further reduce the FARC’s appeal, and it is certainly in the U.S. national interest. This one shouldn’t even be controversial.

Obama’s stance toward Colombia is another in a series of “picking the wrong side” errors he perpetually makes (e.g., the Hugo Chavez–backed Manual Zelaya instead of the broad-based coalition that ousted him, the Russians over our Czech and Polish allies, the Iranian regime over the Green movement). He rather consistently backs those who are hostile to the U.S., even at the expense of ignoring evidence (Zelaya’s power grab) or the long-term strategic interests of the U.S. (empowering the UN to pronounce on Israel’s anti-terror tactics).

Obama’s supporters would say he’s trying to “engage” or reduce conflict with our foes, although this hardly explains the gratuitous swipes at allies. His critics contend he either puts domestic priorities above national security (e.g., siding with Big Labor on free-trade deals) or has a fetish for strongmen. Whatever the rationale, it’s getting easy to spot the “good guys” in regional disputes. They’re the ones Obama is treating the worst.

Both the Washington Post‘s and the Wall Street Journal‘s editors rightly praise the outcome of the election in Colombia and implore the Obama administration not to treat this president as poorly as it treated the last one. The Post explains:

Juan Manuel Santos has demonstrated that pro-American, pro-free-market politicians still have life in Latin America. Mr. Santos, who romped to victory in Colombia’s presidential runoff on Sunday, has no interest in courting Iran, unlike Brazil’s Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva. He has rejected the authoritarian socialism of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. A former journalist with degrees from the University of Kansas and Harvard, he values free media and independent courts. His biggest priority may be ratifying and implementing a free-trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. So the question raised by Mr. Santos’s election is whether the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders will greet this strong and needed U.S. ally with open arms — or with the arms-length disdain and protectionist stonewalling to which they subjected his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe. … The Obama administration, which has courted Mr. Lula and sought to improve relations with Venezuela and Cuba, has been cool to Colombia, recommending another 11 percent reduction in aid for next year and keeping the trade agreement on ice.

The Journal writes:

On Sunday 13 police and soldiers were killed by guerrillas trying to disrupt the vote. Mr. Santos has also challenged neighboring countries that provide a haven to the FARC. This triumph also ought to echo in Washington, where Democrats in Congress and the White House continue to deny a vote on the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. One liberal Democratic excuse has been concerns about Mr. Uribe’s security policies, but Colombia’s people have now spoken.

Like Mr. Uribe, Mr. Santos wants the free trade deal to force his country to face the discipline of global competition and turn Colombia into the next Chile or Taiwan. Such progress would further reduce the FARC’s appeal, and it is certainly in the U.S. national interest. This one shouldn’t even be controversial.

Obama’s stance toward Colombia is another in a series of “picking the wrong side” errors he perpetually makes (e.g., the Hugo Chavez–backed Manual Zelaya instead of the broad-based coalition that ousted him, the Russians over our Czech and Polish allies, the Iranian regime over the Green movement). He rather consistently backs those who are hostile to the U.S., even at the expense of ignoring evidence (Zelaya’s power grab) or the long-term strategic interests of the U.S. (empowering the UN to pronounce on Israel’s anti-terror tactics).

Obama’s supporters would say he’s trying to “engage” or reduce conflict with our foes, although this hardly explains the gratuitous swipes at allies. His critics contend he either puts domestic priorities above national security (e.g., siding with Big Labor on free-trade deals) or has a fetish for strongmen. Whatever the rationale, it’s getting easy to spot the “good guys” in regional disputes. They’re the ones Obama is treating the worst.

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Colombia’s Presidential Election Is a U.S. Victory

As usually happens because of the global obsession with the actions of one tiny state in the Middle East, the controversy over the Gaza flotilla has become so all-encompassing that it is obscuring other important bits of news. Like what just happened in Colombia — another important American ally that receives its share of opprobrium from the left (although, of course, nothing compared to the vilification of Israel).

Colombia just held a presidential election. Polls had shown a neck-and-neck race between former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and the loopy former Green Party mayor of Bogota, Antanas Mockus (who sports an Amish-style beard). It appeared that a big upset could be brewing with the defeat of President Alvaro Uribe’s handpicked successor — a man who was almost as closely associated as the outgoing president with the increasingly successful battle against Marxist rebels (the FARC) and narco-traffickers.

It turned out, however, that the outcome wasn’t that close. Santos got 46.5 percent of the vote, and Mockus, only 21.5 percent. Santos still fell short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off, but there seems little prospect of Mockus winning in the second round. This was undoubtedly one of the most jaw-dropping failures of preelection polling since a 1936 Literary Digest survey predicted that Alf Landon would defeat Franklin Roosevelt with 57 percent of the vote. (FDR actually got won more than 60 percent.)

While pollsters sift their methodology or maybe simply go off to commit hara-kiri, let me just note that this is a big victory not only for the people of Colombia but also for the United States. We are now virtually assured of having a pro-American leader in Bogota, who will be interested in continuing to work closely with us to combat the baleful influence of the Hugo Chavez regime in neighboring Venezuela, which is in bed not only with FARC and the drug traffickers but also with Iran, Hezbollah, and other unsavory characters. It would be nice if Congress repaid the support of the Colombians by finally passing the long-delayed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord. But no doubt the labor unions (to which the Obama administration appears to be in thrall) will continue to cast aspersions on Colombia’s considerable democratic achievement in order to disguise their protectionist agenda.

As usually happens because of the global obsession with the actions of one tiny state in the Middle East, the controversy over the Gaza flotilla has become so all-encompassing that it is obscuring other important bits of news. Like what just happened in Colombia — another important American ally that receives its share of opprobrium from the left (although, of course, nothing compared to the vilification of Israel).

Colombia just held a presidential election. Polls had shown a neck-and-neck race between former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and the loopy former Green Party mayor of Bogota, Antanas Mockus (who sports an Amish-style beard). It appeared that a big upset could be brewing with the defeat of President Alvaro Uribe’s handpicked successor — a man who was almost as closely associated as the outgoing president with the increasingly successful battle against Marxist rebels (the FARC) and narco-traffickers.

It turned out, however, that the outcome wasn’t that close. Santos got 46.5 percent of the vote, and Mockus, only 21.5 percent. Santos still fell short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off, but there seems little prospect of Mockus winning in the second round. This was undoubtedly one of the most jaw-dropping failures of preelection polling since a 1936 Literary Digest survey predicted that Alf Landon would defeat Franklin Roosevelt with 57 percent of the vote. (FDR actually got won more than 60 percent.)

While pollsters sift their methodology or maybe simply go off to commit hara-kiri, let me just note that this is a big victory not only for the people of Colombia but also for the United States. We are now virtually assured of having a pro-American leader in Bogota, who will be interested in continuing to work closely with us to combat the baleful influence of the Hugo Chavez regime in neighboring Venezuela, which is in bed not only with FARC and the drug traffickers but also with Iran, Hezbollah, and other unsavory characters. It would be nice if Congress repaid the support of the Colombians by finally passing the long-delayed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord. But no doubt the labor unions (to which the Obama administration appears to be in thrall) will continue to cast aspersions on Colombia’s considerable democratic achievement in order to disguise their protectionist agenda.

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Colombia Going Green?

The Wall Street Journal has a piece from the weekend pointing out the poll surge of the Colombian Green Party’s presidential candidate, Antanas Mockus. Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants and a former university professor, was mayor of Bogota for two non-consecutive terms. He gained fame in that office for walking around Bogota in a caped superhero costume, discouraging traffic violations by stationing mimes on street corners to embarrass drivers, and showering for a TV commercial to encourage water conservation.

Until early April, pundits had addressed the Mockus candidacy with the stock phrase “has trouble gaining voter interest outside of Bogota.” His Green Party run against Alvaro Uribe in 2006 netted him less than 5 percent of the national vote. But his surge with voters this month now has a poll showing that he would narrowly defeat Uribe’s former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, in a runoff between the two.

As this article indicates, the demographics of Mockus’s support are strikingly similar to Barack Obama’s in 2008. He galvanizes youth voters, independents, and the very wealthy. On the superficial trappings of the Green appeal, he is flawlessly Euro-Green: sunflower symbol, studied informality in attire and grooming, demure fist-pumping. The WSJ analysis that many Colombians are looking for something new is probably quite accurate; as Uribe’s tenure comes to an end, Colombians feel safer and less worried about internal security. Santos, in contrast to Mockus, is the scion of one of Colombia’s oldest and most entrenched political dynasties. For many voters, he reeks of a stuffy, irrelevant past.

How irrelevant that past truly is remains a question, however. The issue on which the Mockus candidacy still founders with many voters is his posture on “democratic security,” the Uribe-era policy expression for a tough stance on internal security and drug-fueled insurgencies like FARC. Mockus enthusiasts frame the dramatic improvement in internal security under Uribe in a somewhat disingenuous fashion, as if the situation simply changed on its own while Uribe was off menacing civil rights. But there is no question that Uribe’s policies and actions are what have wrought the transformation.

In addressing the particulars of democratic security policy, Mockus is alternately categorical and temporizing — in exactly the wrong places. His Green Party platform affirms without caveat, for example, that he would never pursue Colombian insurgents across the border as Uribe’s forces did in 2008. This would naturally be a green light for FARC to consolidate cross-border bases, something Hugo Chavez has been very accommodating about in neighboring Venezuela. On the question of holding a dialogue with FARC, however, Mockus deems it merely “unlikely” unless the guerrillas change their language and cease being “slaves to kidnapping.”

It’s not that Mockus appears to have any connection with Chavez or Castro, like such entrenched or aspiring presidents-for-life as Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Manuel Zelaya, lately ousted from Honduras. But policies like those embraced by Mockus quickly become prostrate and ineffective in the face of guerrilla aggression. Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez has ramped up a war of words against Juan Manuel Santos over the past week, calling him a “threat to the region” and predicting war if he wins the election. There’s no doubt whose policies Chavez expects to dislike. When Colombians go to the polls on May 30, we can hope they will remember what it has taken to transform their domestic-security environment — and why they now have the sense of political leisure to take flyers on theatrical boutique candidates.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece from the weekend pointing out the poll surge of the Colombian Green Party’s presidential candidate, Antanas Mockus. Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants and a former university professor, was mayor of Bogota for two non-consecutive terms. He gained fame in that office for walking around Bogota in a caped superhero costume, discouraging traffic violations by stationing mimes on street corners to embarrass drivers, and showering for a TV commercial to encourage water conservation.

Until early April, pundits had addressed the Mockus candidacy with the stock phrase “has trouble gaining voter interest outside of Bogota.” His Green Party run against Alvaro Uribe in 2006 netted him less than 5 percent of the national vote. But his surge with voters this month now has a poll showing that he would narrowly defeat Uribe’s former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, in a runoff between the two.

As this article indicates, the demographics of Mockus’s support are strikingly similar to Barack Obama’s in 2008. He galvanizes youth voters, independents, and the very wealthy. On the superficial trappings of the Green appeal, he is flawlessly Euro-Green: sunflower symbol, studied informality in attire and grooming, demure fist-pumping. The WSJ analysis that many Colombians are looking for something new is probably quite accurate; as Uribe’s tenure comes to an end, Colombians feel safer and less worried about internal security. Santos, in contrast to Mockus, is the scion of one of Colombia’s oldest and most entrenched political dynasties. For many voters, he reeks of a stuffy, irrelevant past.

How irrelevant that past truly is remains a question, however. The issue on which the Mockus candidacy still founders with many voters is his posture on “democratic security,” the Uribe-era policy expression for a tough stance on internal security and drug-fueled insurgencies like FARC. Mockus enthusiasts frame the dramatic improvement in internal security under Uribe in a somewhat disingenuous fashion, as if the situation simply changed on its own while Uribe was off menacing civil rights. But there is no question that Uribe’s policies and actions are what have wrought the transformation.

In addressing the particulars of democratic security policy, Mockus is alternately categorical and temporizing — in exactly the wrong places. His Green Party platform affirms without caveat, for example, that he would never pursue Colombian insurgents across the border as Uribe’s forces did in 2008. This would naturally be a green light for FARC to consolidate cross-border bases, something Hugo Chavez has been very accommodating about in neighboring Venezuela. On the question of holding a dialogue with FARC, however, Mockus deems it merely “unlikely” unless the guerrillas change their language and cease being “slaves to kidnapping.”

It’s not that Mockus appears to have any connection with Chavez or Castro, like such entrenched or aspiring presidents-for-life as Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Manuel Zelaya, lately ousted from Honduras. But policies like those embraced by Mockus quickly become prostrate and ineffective in the face of guerrilla aggression. Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez has ramped up a war of words against Juan Manuel Santos over the past week, calling him a “threat to the region” and predicting war if he wins the election. There’s no doubt whose policies Chavez expects to dislike. When Colombians go to the polls on May 30, we can hope they will remember what it has taken to transform their domestic-security environment — and why they now have the sense of political leisure to take flyers on theatrical boutique candidates.

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Hopeful Signs on U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord — Finally

It’s nice to see Secretary of Defense Bob Gates endorse the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord, which remains stalled in Congress primarily owing to labor-union opposition. It’s even nicer to read that President Obama may be having a change of heart on the issue:

President Obama was skeptical about the agreement as a senator and during his presidential campaign, citing Colombia’s record of labor crackdowns. But after meeting last year with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Obama said Bogota had made progress on human rights issues and ordered U.S. trade officials to move ahead on the deal.

I only hope that this translates into active administration support for the accord on Capitol Hill.  Not only is it in our strategic interest — Colombia is our closest ally in Latin America and a key bulwark against drug traffickers, Marxist rebels, and other threats, such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela — but it is also in our economic interest, because it would boost American exports.

As this Commerce Department fact sheet points out, “for over 16 years, Colombian businesses have paid virtually nothing to export to the United States. Colombian goods enter our market under various U.S. trade preference programs that give Colombian businesses duty-free access to U.S. consumers. In 2007, over 91 percent of Colombian exports to the U.S. market entered duty-free.” Meanwhile, “every single day, about $2 million dollars in taxes are placed on a variety of U.S. exports sent to the Colombian market, effectively undermining the competitiveness of American products.” For instance, while Colombian coffee arrives in the U.S. duty-free, a bottle of Pepsi is taxed 20 percent in Colombia.

It is hard to see any logical argument for maintaining this disparity. While various fig leaves have been advanced about supposed human-rights violations in Colombia, the reality is that President Alvaro Uribe has dramatically improved the human-rights situation by beating back FARC rebels and their narco-trafficking allies. There is no good reason to oppose the accord. It’s simply raw politics on the part of protectionist American labor unions, and Obama has aided them for too long.

No indication yet of any change in the administration position regarding the U.S.-Panama Trade Accord or the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, two other agreements with key allies that are very much in our interest but that are being blocked by Democratic politicians. Perhaps if Obama makes a personal commitment to these treaties, which were signed by his predecessor, he might do a little to dispel the common impression of his foreign policy — namely that, as one wag put it, “if you’re our enemy, we’re sorry; if you’re our ally, you’re sorry.”

It’s nice to see Secretary of Defense Bob Gates endorse the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord, which remains stalled in Congress primarily owing to labor-union opposition. It’s even nicer to read that President Obama may be having a change of heart on the issue:

President Obama was skeptical about the agreement as a senator and during his presidential campaign, citing Colombia’s record of labor crackdowns. But after meeting last year with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Obama said Bogota had made progress on human rights issues and ordered U.S. trade officials to move ahead on the deal.

I only hope that this translates into active administration support for the accord on Capitol Hill.  Not only is it in our strategic interest — Colombia is our closest ally in Latin America and a key bulwark against drug traffickers, Marxist rebels, and other threats, such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela — but it is also in our economic interest, because it would boost American exports.

As this Commerce Department fact sheet points out, “for over 16 years, Colombian businesses have paid virtually nothing to export to the United States. Colombian goods enter our market under various U.S. trade preference programs that give Colombian businesses duty-free access to U.S. consumers. In 2007, over 91 percent of Colombian exports to the U.S. market entered duty-free.” Meanwhile, “every single day, about $2 million dollars in taxes are placed on a variety of U.S. exports sent to the Colombian market, effectively undermining the competitiveness of American products.” For instance, while Colombian coffee arrives in the U.S. duty-free, a bottle of Pepsi is taxed 20 percent in Colombia.

It is hard to see any logical argument for maintaining this disparity. While various fig leaves have been advanced about supposed human-rights violations in Colombia, the reality is that President Alvaro Uribe has dramatically improved the human-rights situation by beating back FARC rebels and their narco-trafficking allies. There is no good reason to oppose the accord. It’s simply raw politics on the part of protectionist American labor unions, and Obama has aided them for too long.

No indication yet of any change in the administration position regarding the U.S.-Panama Trade Accord or the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, two other agreements with key allies that are very much in our interest but that are being blocked by Democratic politicians. Perhaps if Obama makes a personal commitment to these treaties, which were signed by his predecessor, he might do a little to dispel the common impression of his foreign policy — namely that, as one wag put it, “if you’re our enemy, we’re sorry; if you’re our ally, you’re sorry.”

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The Man Behind Colombia’s Miracle

Alvaro Uribe is one of the most consequential world leaders of the past decade. He is the man primarily responsible for what I have called the “Colombia Miracle” — the amazing turnaround that has taken his country from being a dysfunctional narco-state to a flourishing democracy where drug dealers and Marxist rebels are on the run, and most of the people live in secure conditions.

But it’s probably just as well that the Colombia Supreme Court barred him from seeking a third term, which would have required amending the constitution. His flirtation with another term could have damaged his reputation and led to comparisons with the odious Hugo Chavez, who was freely elected in next-door Venezuela but has remained in office via extra-constitutional means. It is to Uribe’s credit, though hardly surprising given his impressive character and track record, that he has embraced the Supreme Court decision and promised to abide by it.

Now it appears likely that his legacy will be carried on by his former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, who is as committed as Uribe to his policy of “democratic security.” It remains to be seen whether Santos will be as effective as Uribe; but even if he isn’t, it probably won’t be a disaster because conditions have improved so much since Uribe took office in 2002 from the inept appeaser Andres Pastrana Arango.

It would be nice if an important job could be found for Uribe on the international stage. Imagine him, for example, as United Nations secretary-general. But that is a pipe dream because he is far too pro-American to ever win favor in that sector. Regardless of what he does next, he deserves recognition for his inspiring achievements. He deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, because he has actually brought peace to much of his country.

Alvaro Uribe is one of the most consequential world leaders of the past decade. He is the man primarily responsible for what I have called the “Colombia Miracle” — the amazing turnaround that has taken his country from being a dysfunctional narco-state to a flourishing democracy where drug dealers and Marxist rebels are on the run, and most of the people live in secure conditions.

But it’s probably just as well that the Colombia Supreme Court barred him from seeking a third term, which would have required amending the constitution. His flirtation with another term could have damaged his reputation and led to comparisons with the odious Hugo Chavez, who was freely elected in next-door Venezuela but has remained in office via extra-constitutional means. It is to Uribe’s credit, though hardly surprising given his impressive character and track record, that he has embraced the Supreme Court decision and promised to abide by it.

Now it appears likely that his legacy will be carried on by his former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, who is as committed as Uribe to his policy of “democratic security.” It remains to be seen whether Santos will be as effective as Uribe; but even if he isn’t, it probably won’t be a disaster because conditions have improved so much since Uribe took office in 2002 from the inept appeaser Andres Pastrana Arango.

It would be nice if an important job could be found for Uribe on the international stage. Imagine him, for example, as United Nations secretary-general. But that is a pipe dream because he is far too pro-American to ever win favor in that sector. Regardless of what he does next, he deserves recognition for his inspiring achievements. He deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, because he has actually brought peace to much of his country.

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HRW Should Stop Punishing Colombia

If I were being ungenerous, I could easily say that no one should pay attention to what Human Rights Watch has to say in light of that group’s history of employing an investigator with a strange fetish for Nazi memorabilia and its attempt to raise money in Saudi Arabia, of all places, by advertising its battles against “pro-Israel pressure groups.” But that would be wrong because, for all its faults, HRW does some valuable work in such countries as China and Sudan. Unfortunately, HRW does not extend similar tolerance and understanding to its targets.

Case in point is its new report on Colombia: “Paramilitaries’ Heirs: The New Face of Violence in Colombia.” In it, HRW focuses on violence and drug-trafficking perpetrated by paramilitary groups that have continued to exist even after the majority of such fighters were demobilized between 2003 and 2006. As far as I can tell, HRW has collected some useful information that shows the need for greater Colombian action against these groups. I am sure that Colombia officials would be the first to say that they need to do more to combat paramilitaries along with FARC and other leftist groups. (In fact, I heard those very views voiced during my visit to Colombia in the fall.) But there is no acknowledgment in the report of the tremendous strides that the government under President Alvaro Uribe has made in combating guerrillas and terrorists of whatever strip, in pacifying much of the country, and in making it possible for citizens to enjoy their democratic rights in peace. Instead the report has a nasty, hectoring tone, suggesting, without quite coming out and saying so, that senior echelons of the government are complicit in paramilitary violence. Among the report’s recommendations for action is this:

Delay consideration of free trade deals with Colombia until the Colombian government meets human rights pre-conditions, including dismantling paramilitary structures and effectively confronting the successor groups that now pose a serious threat to trade unionists.

Actually the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is already stalled. It has been ratified by the Colombian parliament but not by the U.S. Congress, where Democrats are blocking it at the instigation of protectionist union leaders. This makes no sense as a matter of policy, because the agreement would not only provide a boost for American exporters, it would also provide much-needed economic help to America’s closest ally in Latin America. Colombia has made amazing, almost miraculous strides in beating back insurgents and narco-traffickers over the past decade, and it did so while reducing human-rights violations among its security forces and enhancing the rule of law (a story that my colleague Rick Bennet and I told in this Weekly Standard article). But the HRW report has nothing positive to say about Colombia’s achievement as far as I can tell. Instead it insists on punishing Colombia — and the U.S. economy — by stopping an important trade agreement until such time as Colombia achieves a state of perfection that will suit HRW. This is a perfect illustration of why it is hard to take seriously so much of the work that comes out of the professional “human rights” community, which too often seems colored by animus against democratic American allies such as Israel and Colombia.

If I were being ungenerous, I could easily say that no one should pay attention to what Human Rights Watch has to say in light of that group’s history of employing an investigator with a strange fetish for Nazi memorabilia and its attempt to raise money in Saudi Arabia, of all places, by advertising its battles against “pro-Israel pressure groups.” But that would be wrong because, for all its faults, HRW does some valuable work in such countries as China and Sudan. Unfortunately, HRW does not extend similar tolerance and understanding to its targets.

Case in point is its new report on Colombia: “Paramilitaries’ Heirs: The New Face of Violence in Colombia.” In it, HRW focuses on violence and drug-trafficking perpetrated by paramilitary groups that have continued to exist even after the majority of such fighters were demobilized between 2003 and 2006. As far as I can tell, HRW has collected some useful information that shows the need for greater Colombian action against these groups. I am sure that Colombia officials would be the first to say that they need to do more to combat paramilitaries along with FARC and other leftist groups. (In fact, I heard those very views voiced during my visit to Colombia in the fall.) But there is no acknowledgment in the report of the tremendous strides that the government under President Alvaro Uribe has made in combating guerrillas and terrorists of whatever strip, in pacifying much of the country, and in making it possible for citizens to enjoy their democratic rights in peace. Instead the report has a nasty, hectoring tone, suggesting, without quite coming out and saying so, that senior echelons of the government are complicit in paramilitary violence. Among the report’s recommendations for action is this:

Delay consideration of free trade deals with Colombia until the Colombian government meets human rights pre-conditions, including dismantling paramilitary structures and effectively confronting the successor groups that now pose a serious threat to trade unionists.

Actually the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is already stalled. It has been ratified by the Colombian parliament but not by the U.S. Congress, where Democrats are blocking it at the instigation of protectionist union leaders. This makes no sense as a matter of policy, because the agreement would not only provide a boost for American exporters, it would also provide much-needed economic help to America’s closest ally in Latin America. Colombia has made amazing, almost miraculous strides in beating back insurgents and narco-traffickers over the past decade, and it did so while reducing human-rights violations among its security forces and enhancing the rule of law (a story that my colleague Rick Bennet and I told in this Weekly Standard article). But the HRW report has nothing positive to say about Colombia’s achievement as far as I can tell. Instead it insists on punishing Colombia — and the U.S. economy — by stopping an important trade agreement until such time as Colombia achieves a state of perfection that will suit HRW. This is a perfect illustration of why it is hard to take seriously so much of the work that comes out of the professional “human rights” community, which too often seems colored by animus against democratic American allies such as Israel and Colombia.

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Chavez Agonistes

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

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Obama, Divider

He’s not even the Democratic nominee yet and already Barack Obama is getting into diplomatic tiffs with the leader of a foreign country. Last week, Colombian president–and staunch U.S. ally–Alvaro Uribe told The Wall Street Journal that Congress’ failure to pass the Colombia Free Trade Act would deal a harsh blow to American-Colombian relations. “I wouldn’t know what to say. It would be very serious,” Uribe said. Colombia is not just any ally. It is our strongest ally in Latin America, a bulwark against the hegemonic Marxist dictator Hugo Chavez. With anti-American sentiment rising across that continent, we need all the friends we can get, and Mr. Uribe is certainly one of them.

Obama doesn’t care. “I think the president is absolutely wrong on this,” he said last week. “You’ve got a government that is under a cloud of potentially having supported violence against unions, against labor, against opposition.” Obama, like much of the rest of his party these days, is in hock to labor unions. They oppose free trade deals on principle because to do so is in the short-term economic interests of their members. But the American people, as a whole, are harmed by protectionism, and so unions and other free trade opponents must therefore dress up their opposition to trade in deceptive arguments. In this case, labor has launched a campaign against the Colombian government, which, they claim, is responsible for the deaths of trade unionists. It is paramilitaries which are responsible for these murders, however, and Uribe has courageously (and effectively) taken them on during his tenure in office, along with crime in general. Considering how enormous a problem violent crime has been in Colombia over the past several decades, this is no small thing.

For all of Obama’s talk about repairing the global alliances destroyed by the Bush administration, the junior senator from Illinois does not seem to care about what his anti-free trade posturing says, not just to Colombia, but the world. What must the Mexicans and Canadians think of his anti-NAFTA demagoguery? What about the South Koreans–another, vital, U.S. ally in a dangerous region–who probably didn’t relish his crusading against their own free trade agreement? Barack Obama’s protectionist rhetoric has done an excellent job of uniting the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Should he become President, the same won’t be said about its effect on the rest of the world.

He’s not even the Democratic nominee yet and already Barack Obama is getting into diplomatic tiffs with the leader of a foreign country. Last week, Colombian president–and staunch U.S. ally–Alvaro Uribe told The Wall Street Journal that Congress’ failure to pass the Colombia Free Trade Act would deal a harsh blow to American-Colombian relations. “I wouldn’t know what to say. It would be very serious,” Uribe said. Colombia is not just any ally. It is our strongest ally in Latin America, a bulwark against the hegemonic Marxist dictator Hugo Chavez. With anti-American sentiment rising across that continent, we need all the friends we can get, and Mr. Uribe is certainly one of them.

Obama doesn’t care. “I think the president is absolutely wrong on this,” he said last week. “You’ve got a government that is under a cloud of potentially having supported violence against unions, against labor, against opposition.” Obama, like much of the rest of his party these days, is in hock to labor unions. They oppose free trade deals on principle because to do so is in the short-term economic interests of their members. But the American people, as a whole, are harmed by protectionism, and so unions and other free trade opponents must therefore dress up their opposition to trade in deceptive arguments. In this case, labor has launched a campaign against the Colombian government, which, they claim, is responsible for the deaths of trade unionists. It is paramilitaries which are responsible for these murders, however, and Uribe has courageously (and effectively) taken them on during his tenure in office, along with crime in general. Considering how enormous a problem violent crime has been in Colombia over the past several decades, this is no small thing.

For all of Obama’s talk about repairing the global alliances destroyed by the Bush administration, the junior senator from Illinois does not seem to care about what his anti-free trade posturing says, not just to Colombia, but the world. What must the Mexicans and Canadians think of his anti-NAFTA demagoguery? What about the South Koreans–another, vital, U.S. ally in a dangerous region–who probably didn’t relish his crusading against their own free trade agreement? Barack Obama’s protectionist rhetoric has done an excellent job of uniting the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Should he become President, the same won’t be said about its effect on the rest of the world.

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