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Lawmaker clarifies he opposes Colombia pact

Reuters | Nov 1, 2007

Lawmaker clarifies he opposes Colombia pact

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — A senior Democratic lawmaker said on Thursday he opposed a U.S. free-trade agreement with Colombia and indicated remarks he made on Wednesday were misunderstood.

"Contrary to recent press reports, I do not support passage of the Colombia FTA — there simply are not enough votes to take up this agreement," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, said in a statement.

"As I have previously stated, it is up to those who do support the Colombia FTA to convince members of Congress and round up the votes for the bill," Rangel said.

Rangel spoke with reporters on Wednesday after the Ways and Means Committee voted 39-0 in favor of a free-trade deal with Colombia’s neighbor, Peru.

As chairman of the Ways and Means panel, Rangel’s opinion carries great weight in consideration of any trade deal.

The Colombia agreement is more controversial than the nearly identical deal with Peru because many U.S. lawmakers believe Colombian President Alvaro Uribe still has not done enough to stop murders of labor unionists and bring their killers to justice.

Earlier on Thursday, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos urged lawmakers to look at the overall improvement Colombia has made in the past five years in stopping violence against union members, rather than narrowly focusing on problems the country is still trying to resolve.

Asked about prospects for the agreement on Wednesday, Rangel seemed to indicate support for the pact.

"Colombia is still being studied by the members and as I told the ambassador who was here this morning from Colombia that we would want to work harder in getting votes for Colombia rather than bring the bill up and having it defeated, which we think would be a rebuff to a great president and to great country and a great ally," Rangel said.

Asked more specifically whether he supported the agreement, Rangel replied:

"You know, I feel myself, as chairman, as a traffic cop and making certain that there’s no impediments to getting the votes. There’s no question in my mind that punishing the government of Colombia for atrocities that’s committed against labor, teachers and other professionals does not help to resolve the issue.

"But again as the chairman, I have to make sure I don’t embarrass my government by pushing a bill that doesn’t have enough support to win. Colombia comes with heavy political weight and those issues have to be resolved."

 source: Reuters