Perhaps most importantly, Uribe had the opportunity to showcase how Medellin has been rebuilt from a violent haven for the world's most notorious drug cartel into a thriving commercial center in the Andean foothills. For those paying attention, it was also a chance to see how threatened all this progress is by the actions of Venezuelan strongman, Hugo Chavez and his support for the FARC -- the Colombian Marxist-narcoterrorist organization.
On the eve of the visit, Chavez "recognized" the FARC as a "political movement engaged in legitimate armed struggle." Though the group holds more than 700 hostages -- including three Americans -- Chavez also demanded that the U.S. remove the group from its list of international terror organizations. He then proceeded to deploy a regiment of soldiers along the Venezuelan-Colombian border -- a region long known to be a FARC stronghold. According to Chavez, the additional troops are needed to stop Venezuelan farmers from "smuggling milk and produce into Colombia," where these goods can be sold for higher prices than Caracas' state-controlled economy permits.
Briefing papers provided to the congressional delegation accompanying Secretary Rice also described Venezuela's growing ties with Russia, China and Iran and Chavez's willingness to use his petrodollars to spread his Bolivarian Revolution throughout the hemisphere. Omitted from the briefs -- perhaps in deference to the delegation's political party affiliation -- was any mention of the dubious deal between Chavez and former Massachusetts Rep. Joseph Kennedy to provide "free home heating oil" for "needy" Americans. Interestingly, Chavez has pledged to press for higher oil prices at next week's OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria.
One can hope the 10 members of Congress who accompanied Secretary Rice on this venture will now help pitch the U.S.-Colombian trade pact to their colleagues in Washington. If they do, Secretary Rice will be able to chalk her most recent sales call off as a success. We need one.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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