Free Trade for Freedom

By Miguel Perez

February 4, 2008 6 min read

In these hard economic times, there are many compelling arguments against the free trade agreements we have been making lately. Too many American jobs, instead of U.S. products, are getting exported.

But if there were ever a country that we should embrace as a trading partner and assist economically, the next one in line for free trade (Colombia) is the one that makes the most sense.

While Colombia already sells most of its goods duty free to the United States, this free trade agreement would make U.S. goods and services much more accessible to Colombians.

But for us — for U.S. interests — there are even more important political considerations. If the U.S. Congress fails to pass the pending U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, which was first signed in 2006, we would be turning our backs on one of the only true allies we have left in Latin America. We would be pulling out of one of the only bastions of democracy and freedom in the region thus clearing the way for the expansion of an alliance of anti-American, leftist regimes, led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

If only to counteract Chavez, who is using Venezuela's oil wealth to buy allies all over the Americas, we should have already approved the free trade deal with Colombia, a country that has made major strides in fighting the terrorist, drug-trafficking, leftist rebels who have killed thousands of innocents during the past five decades.

The government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has made tremendous progress in curtailing the number of murders and kidnappings conducted by the terrorists, and consequently the Colombian economy is stronger than it has been in decades. Collaborating with U.S. authorities in fighting both drug traffickers and criminal rebels, Uribe has stood firm as a friend of America at a time and in a region of the world where being anti-American is much more politically correct.

Because of his close relations with the United States, Uribe has become the target of Chavez's trash-talking insults, to the point that Chavez now has sided with the Colombian rebels. Because Chavez obviously is itching for a confrontation with the United States, he even has suggested that Colombia is preparing to invade Venezuela with the backing of the United States.

Under these circumstances, if we reject free trade with Colombia, if we send out the message that even Uribe can't rely on U.S. support, we might as well let Chavez turn the rest of our hemisphere into U.S.-enemy territory.

The Bush administration, typically late in taking action, now is trying to persuade Congress to approve the free trade deal. As part of an "unprecedented campaign," Cabinet members have been leading congressional delegations to Colombia.

"It would be a very big sign … for the people of Colombia, not to mention the people of the region, that you do difficult things, you work hard, you bring your country back from the brink, and the United States doesn't deliver," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as she visited Colombia last week with a group of nine Democratic lawmakers.

But many Democrats have been reluctant to ratify the U.S.-Colombia agreement. They must realize that the deal is good for U.S. interests — that Uribe must be backed and Chavez must be confronted — but they just don't want to give Bush any kind of legislative victory.

The problem is that this is a very good idea that unfortunately is being promoted by an unpopular, discredited and lame-duck administration. And just because President Bush is pushing it, regardless of how much sense it makes, the Democrats are opposing it.

What can you expect from a Congress that can't even agree on an urgently needed economic stimulus package? Our government is gridlocked because too many decisions are being based solely on politics, instead of logic. This is just one more of them.

As an excuse for dragging their feet on this crucial trade deal, some Democrats are claiming that the Uribe government (which nearly has performed miracles) has not done enough to protect Colombian workers from violence. This is not just a lame excuse; it's absurd. In fact, if they really want to protect Colombian workers, they should be rushing to assist the Colombian president, who already has made 44 million Colombians much safer.

"(I'm here) to say very strongly that whatever the challenges facing Colombia, they are not going to be easier if this free trade deal does not pass," Rice said while visiting Colombia's second-largest city, Medellin. "In fact, they will be harder."

Let's hope that our lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — don't take too long to realize that she is right and that they should put American interests above partisan politics.

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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