Colombia’s Uribe to Speaker Pelosi: Please Visit

By April 20, 2008Trade

From an interview with Colombia’s president, Álvaro Uribe, in today’s Washington Post:

Q. What would you say to members of the House?

A. I invite them to visit Colombia — especially Speaker Pelosi. If she comes, she will find problems and progress, but she will see our total determination to overcome these problems.

On Saturday, the Post editorialized on House leadership’s blocking the U.S.-Colombia FTA, refuting the argument that Colombia is a bad actor when it comes to protecting union members. From, “Colombia’s Case — The intellectual poverty of a free-trade deal’s opponents“:

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.

Perhaps he sees no better option politically, but the willingness of President Uribe to continue engaging Congress despite the House changing the trade rules in the middle of the game — a life and death game for Colombians — is the sign of wise and measured leadership.

Speaker Pelosi should accept the president’s invitation.

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