In 2002, Colombia elected Alvaro Uribe, and the nation has been climbing steadily up out of the mire ever since. A fortified police force and military have taken on the FARC with, as today's headlines attest, tremendous success. Kidnappings, USA Today reports, are down by 78 percent and murders by 37 percent while 32,000 paramilitaries have been disbanded. With greater security has come economic growth. But the gains are still fragile.
The Bush administration staunchly supports Uribe, and has proposed a bilateral free trade agreement. Unions and their poodles among the leadership of the Democratic Party have balked, throwing up one excuse after another to block the deal. Colombia needed to satisfy worker rights issues. They complied. They needed to assure that strict environmental standards were included. They agreed. Now the Democratic leadership in Congress is insisting that Colombia demonstrate greater progress in quelling violence against trade unionists. (For a summation of the Democrats' position, you need only check out the Teamsters Union radio ad against the treaty.) The Democrats have delayed consideration of the bill again.
You might suppose, based on the Teamsters' vehemence, that the treaty would benefit Colombian interests. But no, 90 percent of Colombian goods already enter this country duty free, whereas U.S. exporters pay significant tariffs to get our goods into Colombia. Like other free trade agreements, this one would benefit both sides -- but it would be a particularly timely show of support for a country that deserves it. Uribe is an articulate believer in the free market at a time when stale Marxism is enjoying a revival in Latin America. More than that, he has demonstrated courage and finesse in battling the terrorists and drug lords who had made life nearly unbearable. If the Democrats succeed in scuttling the free trade agreement, they will be putting a finger in the eye of our best ally in the region -- and handing Hugo Chavez a victory.