Saturday, April 19, 2008

The case for Colombia: the Washington Post takes side for Colombia and against Venezuela

Today's editorial in the Washington Post is a must read because it marks a milestone in how a newspaper regards its role when the interests of a country are at stake, when faced with outdated parochialism from its top leaders. In this almost acerbic editorial the Post takes directly upon Speaker Pelosi and Union leader Sweeney, accusing them of false motives regarding their opposition to the trade deal with Colombia and thus favoring Venezuela. It cannot be any clearer. Below I post in full the editorial with my comments in between paragraphs. It is just too delicious to miss such an opportunity even if the editorial speaks for itself.

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Colombia's Case
The intellectual poverty of a free-trade deal's opponents

The subtitle says it all from the start.

HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says the Bush administration's free-trade agreement with Colombia may not be dead, even though she has postponed a vote on it indefinitely. If the White House doesn't "jam it down the throat of Congress," she said, she might negotiate. Ms. Pelosi wants an "economic agenda that gives some sense of security to American workers and businesses . . . that somebody is looking out for them" -- though she was vague as to what that entails. Nor did she specify how anyone could "jam" through a measure on which the administration has already briefed Congress many, many times.

The Post calls Pelosi's bluff, if not lies. The lack of real leadership from Pelosi has been quite apparent and she has been a disappointment as a speaker. Her sole agenda seems to have been countering Bush. It is her right but not her duty for someone in her position. She could have started by realizing that Bush was a lame duck and thus think a little bit more outside the sand box keeping partisanship at home and not let it spill on the necessary bipartisan approach for foreign policy. Iraq, for all of its mistakes and horrors cannot cloud Pelosi's mind on other issues. That is her duty.

Still, in the hope that Ms. Pelosi might in fact schedule a vote, it may be worth examining once more the arguments against this tariff-slashing deal. Perhaps we should say "argument," because there is really only one left: namely, that Colombia is "the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist" and that the government of President Álvaro Uribe is to blame. As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney put it in an April 14 Post op-ed, union workers in Colombia "face an implicit death sentence."

Because that is the only argument that is left for Sweeney and Pelosi now that all the other arguments have been made irrelevant. The Post implicitly recalls that it would actually benefit US workers as the trade deal FAVORS exports toward Colombia. The only advantage for Colombia is that its favorable status in exporting to the US will be made more permanent instead of being subjected to the vagaries of whomever is sitting in the Oval Office or Congress. In other words two Democrats are opposing the creation of more potential jobs for US workers that would be exporting to Colombia. Priceless! The third Democrat in the race must be be beaming!

Colombia is, indeed, violent -- though homicide has dramatically declined under Mr. Uribe. There were 17,198 murders in 2007. Of the dead, only 39 -- or 0.226 percent -- were even members of trade unions, let alone leaders or activists, according to the Colombian labor movement. (Union members make up just under 2 percent of the Colombian population.)

This hardly suggests a campaign of anti-union terrorism in Colombia. Moreover, the number of trade unionists killed has fallen from a rate of about 200 per year before Mr. Uribe took office in 2002, despite a reported uptick in the past few months. (Arrests have already been made in three of this year's cases, according to Bogota.) And evidence is sparse that all, or even most, of the union dead were killed because of their labor organizing. As Mr. Sweeney and other critics note, precious few cases have been solved, which is hardly surprising given that Colombia's judicial system has been under attack from left-wing guerrillas, drug traffickers and right-wing death squads -- a war, we repeat, that Mr. Uribe has greatly contained. But in cases that have been prosecuted, the victims' union activity or presumed support for guerrillas has been the motive in fewer than half of the killings.

The Post says it all briefly. Even crudely presented as that, it hardly seems enough of a reason to stop the trade deal when China children factories are allowed to export to the world, and the US. Apparently Colombia's evil are much greater than workers exploitation in China, in a scale that was not seen since the XIX century worst hours of US capitalism. where are the Union Leaders of China? How often they visit and sit down with Sweeney and Pelosi to ask them for help in protecting China's workers rights? Maybe next in line after the Tibetan monks....

An April 10 letter to the editor from Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch suggested that we would not make such arguments "if death squads with ties to the U.S. government were targeting Post reporters for assassination." We like to think that our criticism would be energetic but fair, especially if the government was responding aggressively to such a campaign and the number of killings was declining. No fair-minded person can fail to note that Colombian unionists are far safer today than they used to be.

This is kind of interesting. That the HRW Malinowski offers such an image is in fact perverse. We all know that journalists in Colombia and Mexico are routinely persecuted and killed by drug boss cartels and disgruntled politicians. The issue is completely different here and that Malinowski offers such a cruel and unnecessary comparison only proves the Post point: arguments against the FTA with Colombia have long ceased to be based on rationality.

There are two important countries at the north of South America. One, Colombia, has a democratic government that, with strong support from the Clinton and Bush administrations, has bravely sought to defeat brutal militias of the left and right and to safeguard human rights. The other, Venezuela, has a repressive government that has undermined media freedoms, forcibly nationalized industries, rallied opposition to the United States and, recent evidence suggests, supported terrorist groups inside Colombia. That U.S. unions, human rights groups and now Democrats would focus their criticism and advocacy on the former, to the benefit of the latter, shows how far they have departed from their own declared principles.

There, you have it, clear as water. The price the Democrats will pay for that is yet to be fully measured, but it will cost the US dearly. Trust me on that one. Again let me remind you that had Pelosi and her court in Congress be serious about their opposition they would have included time clauses or something to demand continued progress inside Colombia. But no, the objective was to sink a Bush proposal, one of the very few good ones he has had in 7 years. Partisanship at its worst.

-The end-

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