Kathryn Lopez
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May 20 marked Cuban Independence Day -- a bittersweet occasion celebrating a freedom won more than 100 years ago but no longer known to the long-suffering residents of Cuba.

John McCain went to Miami for the occasion to assure Cuban exiles that he is committed to pressuring the tyrannical regime in Havana "to release all political prisoners unconditionally, to legalize all political parties, labor unions and free media, and to schedule internationally monitored elections."

The Republican presidential nominee said the embargo "must stay in place until these basic elements of democratic society are met."

Cuba isn't the only Latin nation that needs our help. McCain reminded Americans of our responsibilities to our other South American friends and blasted his Democratic colleagues for refusing to pass the Colombian Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) now before Congress:

"Colombia is a beacon of hope in a region where the Castro brothers, (Venezuelan President) Hugo Chavez and others are actively seeking to thwart economic progress and democracy."

Stalling on the approval of the CFTA "will not create one American job or start one American business, but it will divide us from our Colombian partners at a time when they are battling the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) terrorists and their allied drug cartels."

When Alvaro Uribe became Colombia's president in 2002, he faced what seemed an impossible task: Waging a war on narco-terrorism, on a continent whose loudest voice is narco-terror supporter Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president. But since taking office, Uribe has made progress, most recently in mid-May, when Nelly Avila Moreno, a top FARC commander, turned herself in. In Uribe's five-year tenure, Colombia has seen a drop in murders, kidnappings and assassinations.

But these facts don't impress the U.S. Democratic Party, whose leadership is stalling the free-trade agreement. The free-trade agreement would cost Americans next to nothing. As things stand, most Colombian goods already enter the United States duty-free. The agreement would open Colombia's markets to our exporters, and strengthen our economic and security ties to a friend that's fighting bad guys on a continent full of dangerous ones with an especially dangerous one in Venezuela: Chavez. He considers FARC a legitimate army.

McCain's position is sharply different from that of the Democratic opponent he'll most likely face in November. Barack Obama, while making plans to meet with the Iranian president, has already alienated Colombia's. In April, he declared: "I'll also oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreement if President Bush insists on sending it to Congress because 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."

Uribe immediately responded: "I deplore the fact that Sen. Obama, aspiring to be president of the United States, should be unaware of Colombia's efforts. I think it is for political calculations that he is making a statement that does not correspond to Colombia's reality."

The Democrats' slam of Uribe only fuels an already hostile political environment. Latin America is a region that lacks a good-neighbor policy. Ecuador and Nicaragua broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia last year after a Colombian raid killed Raul Reyes, the No. 2 FARC commander. Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico condemned Colombia's actions. Chavez ordered troops to the Colombian/Venezuelan border.

Chavez will delight in and be emboldened by the failure of the CFTA, which will be seen as Uribe's failure to get a vote of confidence from the world's No. 1 superpower. Chavez has already used it as a rhetorical weapon on state-run television. He has insanely accused Uribe of running a "genocidal government." For Congress to hand Chavez this victory would be a shameful and dangerous act. When Cubans finally taste freedom again, will they be alone or have a friend in the area?

The choice is up to the Pelosi-Reid Congress. Someday, Cuba Libre. For now: CFTA Libre!

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Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.