Pelosi Plays Politics with Colombia Trade Deal

For the first time in American history, Congress may fail to approve a major trade pact. Not just any trade pact, but one that is hugely important -- both strategically and symbolically -- and one that could consolidate our relations with Latin America.

Today House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that Congress will eliminate the deadline on the ratification of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. By eliminating the deadline, the CFTA is as good as dead. She was reacting to President Bush's move last Monday to pressure Congress and force a vote in the House by signing a letter requiring that lawmakers consider the deal within 90 session days.

President Bush was forcing Congress' hand, since the negotiations over the timing of the deal had virtually ground to a halt in recent months.

The Colombia Free Trade Agreement has been in the works for the past two years. The Bush administration concluded negotiations with Colombia on the free trade agreement and the treaty was signed in November 2006. Since then, the White House has met all congressional objectives under the congressional mandate and the Trade Promotion Authority. Cabinet members have taken fifty-five lawmakers to Colombia.

Along with three other free trade agreements with Peru, Panama, and South Korea, the Colombia agreement was modified -- at the behest of the Democrat leadership -- to add enforceable labor and environmental provisions. Late last year the Peru Free Trade Agreement passed.

Then, two months ago Congress gave Colombian workers duty-free access to U.S. markets. This means that American exporters have paid more than $1 billion in tariffs while Colombian exports have come into the U.S. duty-free. Almost all Colombian products enter the U.S. duty-free.

The 9,000 U.S. businesses that export to Colombia are at a great disadvantage. They will watch as other nations, most prominently but not exclusively China, take away much of their business with Colombia. The EU is also watching the anti-free trade sentiment in the U.S. and will certainly move in to expand trade with Latin America. Thousands of American jobs will be lost.

Additionally, the Colombian central bank estimates that the country will create 76,760 new jobs in the first year if free trade passes. Those jobs would probably go to China, and many of those workers will try their luck as undocumented labor in the U.S.

But the importance of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement goes well beyond the impact on business since total trade with Colombia is only 1% of all U.S. trade. Colombia is finally making headway towards ending its decades-long civil war. For the first time in recent history there is talk of reconciliation and of living in a country where the rule of law applies. The country has been witness to ongoing strife that goes back to the days of La Violencia in the late 1940s. Today, the violence is fueled by drug cartel money, with FARC, the Marxist rebels, comprising the most powerful narco-terrorist group. The AUC United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia), which unites the largest paramilitary groups in Colombia, is also responsible for more violence.

President Alvaro Uribe and his administration have made huge strides towards ending the war and the chaos in which the country has been enveloped for so many years. The legal system is stronger, the crime rate has plummeted, and the FARC has been banished to the country's jungle periphery.

What Colombia needs right now is a big show of support from its strongest ally, the United States.

Colombia is sandwiched between Ecuador and Venezuela, whose governments are aiding and abetting the FARC, as the laptops seized last month from the FARC encampment in Ecuador (where the FARC's #2 man, Raul Reyes, was hiding) demonstrate. Hugo Chavez is spending billions of dollars of Venezuela's oil profits towards spreading his "Bolivarian Revolution" across the hemisphere and Colombia is his biggest target. Chavez aims to isolate the region from the benefits of international trade so it will be dependent on his "generosity".

The Reyes laptops have brought about more captures of drug lords and FARC operatives, but also they yielded some interesting insights into American politics: According to the Wall Street Journal, the Reyes hard drives revealed:

an ardent effort to do business directly with the FARC by Congressman James McGovern (D., Mass.), a leading opponent of the free trade deal. Mr. McGovern has been working with an American go-between, who has been offering the rebels help in undermining Colombia's elected and popular government.

By changing the House rules Nancy Pelosi is responding to pressure from her Democrat colleagues and from organized labor, who strongly oppose the agreement over what they consider unacceptable levels of violence against union organizers in Colombia.

Seventeen union organizers have been killed in Colombia so far this year. Because of the huge turf wars being waged, more union organizers are killed in Colombia than in any other country.

Curiously, the AFL-CIO has cited Jairo Giraldo Rey's murder as one of the reasons why "the AFL-CIO remains unalterably opposed to passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement." Curiously, because as Investors Business Daily explains, Giraldo was a staunch supporter of free trade.

In addition to using violence against Colombian union organizers as an excuse, Nancy Pelosi and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) want President Bush to expand aid to workers who lose their jobs because of import competition. The president has stated he's willing to work towards that goal.

Do Pelosi and the House Democrats truly care about workers who lose their jobs because of import competition, considering how they gave Colombian workers duty-free access to U.S. markets? Apparently not.

Pelosi's gambit also tells the world that in the U.S., the only superpower in the world, political squabbles take precedence over security interests.

The Democrats like to claim that President Bush ignores Latin America, and that they would be the ones who would make friends in all the nations in our hemisphere. Nancy Pelosi is willing to endanger the future of two countries and the security of the continent just to show that they are the ones in charge.

Fausta Wertz writes on New Jersey, taxation, current events, and the French and Spanish-language media at Fausta’s Blog.