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Carlos Alberto Montaner
(FIRMAS PRESS) A couple of weeks ago, the Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress shut the door on a free-trade treaty with Colombia. The Republicans attempted in vain to uphold it. The episode is a reminder that it is not true that both parties cooperate responsibly on foreign policy affairs. In the United States, electoral reasons are heavier than the reasons of state. At election time, anything goes -- in exchange for a handful of votes. The candidates support or reject the issues before them on the basis of the political mileage they can get out of them, rather than how positive or negative those issues may be for the country. Hillary and Obama know that the United States would benefit from free trade with Colombia, but they are not willing to confront the labor unions and the voters’ distorted perceptions.
Predictably, both in Colombia and the United States, the labor unions also oppose the accord. As is well known, the unions usually are the toughest enemies of progress. There is opposition in Colombia, because the treaty allegedly would favor “Yankee imperialism,” to the detriment of the Colombian working class. The Colombian union leaders, who love the tariffs that raise the cost of living for the workers, fear that an avalanche of better and cheaper products will destroy or weaken the nation’s fragile productive structure.
Union leaders in the United States, for their part, wield an excuse based on hypocrisy. They claim they don't want the treaty to be signed so as to force the paramilitaries to stop murdering union leaders in Colombia. Nobody has explained why these heartless criminals are sensitive to the balance of trade, as if they worked in the New York Stock Exchange, but the U.S. labor apparatus has clung to that cynical pretext to conceal its protectionism.
Colombia should not be surprised at its loneliness, however. The lack of solidarity is abundant on the international arena, especially among democratic governments. After all, the United States is an uncertain and timid ally of the Colombians, but it may be the only ally they have -- for now. The alleged “Latin American brethren” oscillate between active complicity with the narcoterrorist guerrillas of the FARC (as practiced by the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua) or general indifference (as shown by almost everyone else.)
In Latin America, practically no democracy lifts a finger to help another society in trouble, whether or not it’s in the neighborhood. Not even the Colombians are innocent of that sin of omission: their democratic governments never tried to protect Somoza’s Nicaraguans, Trujillo’s Dominicans, Castro’s Cubans or Stroessner’s Paraguayans.
In any case, slamming the door to the FTA with Colombia is merely a rehearsal for what may come after the November elections. If the Democrats win, it is likely that Washington will drastically reduce or terminate its military aid to the Uribe government. Then, Colombia will have to make medium- or long-term plans to deal with its calamities, without the United States’ or anybody else’s assistance. To make matters worse, the governments of Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua will help the FARC narcoterrorists copiously and in one thousand different ways, under the passive gaze of the OAS and the rest of the continent’s decorative institutions.
Can the Colombians face -- by themselves -- the onslaught of the communist narcoguerrillas and their accomplice governments in the region? Yes, of course, but only if they make a greater investment in the material strengthening of their army and intelligence agencies. There is no way to pacify the country other than unequivocally defeating the FARC and the ELN until they become convinced, as happened in Guatemala and El Salvador, that they must put down their weapons and sit down for serious negotiations, else they’ll disappear. That will demand a big dose of patriotism and combative moral; it will mean making economic sacrifices, adapting their laws and institutions to a time of war, waging the information battle more intelligently and, above all, realizing that they are alone in the face of danger. Íngrimos, [isolated] as they say in that God-forsaken land.
April 18, 2008
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