logo logo

US/Colombia free trade agreement seems ever more distant

MercoPress (Montevideo)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

US/Colombia free trade agreement seems ever more distant

The free trade agreement which the George Bush administration signed with Colombia is stalled in the US Congress and could face further delays because of the alleged links of the Colombian President Alvaro Uribe administration with para military forces.

According to Capitol sources and lobbyists involved in promoting the free trade agreements, those signed with Peru and Panama have a better chance of passing Congress even when Democrats, that now control both houses, are not enthusiastic about these types of accords.

The approval also has a limited timetable because at mid year the Bush administration will loose its “fast track” empowerment which allows the White House to negotiate trade agreements which Congress must then approve or reject, but with no amendments.

With Democrats in control of Congress and strong lobbying from trade unions, environmentalists and human rights groups it’s hard to for see an extension of the “fast track” prerogative.

The US State Department encourages the free trade agreement with Colombia and the so called Plan Colombia II, a controversial program to combat the powerful narcotics gangs, — closely allied with terrorist groups—, and to eradicate coke plantations.

Since Uribe was elected in 2002 the Bush administration built close and strong links with the Colombian president who was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2006 and has been receiving ample aid and resources from Washington.

But human rights violations and excesses committed by Colombian security forces among civilians together with the close links of government with extreme rights groups have come to the limelight now that Democrats are the leading party in the US.

“The mafias are acting inside the Uribe cabinet”, claims Jose Miguel Vivanco head of Human Rights Watch for Latinamerica.

“What’s happening in Colombia is extremely grave; we have made it public for years but so far it has managed to glide through because of the Chavez factor”, he added.

Colombia became the “strategic” ally of the US in the region because the “bad guy” is Chavez, “as happened with Pakistan because of Afghanistan and before that with Fujimori in Peru”, said Vivanco.

However since eight members of the Colombian Congress belonging to President Uribe’s party have been arrested for alleged links with para-military groups, and similarly with close relatives of Colombian Foreign Affairs minister, the situation has “changed drastically”.

Minister Maria Consuelo Araújo’s father, brother and cousin have been exposed as having links with extreme right death squads, and she has had to face a barrage of accusations from Congress and the press.

Given the seriousness of the situation Colombia’s vice-president Francisco Santos and Defence minister Juan Manuel Santos are lobbying in the corridors of US Congress, where, according to the Bogotá press, they have found bipartisan support for the Colombia Plan II, but not for the free trade agreement because of the connections scandal and human rights issue.

“The scandal’s timing couldn’t have been worse for Uribe. US Congress members were concerned about human rights in Colombia but now with the magnitude of these latest revelations it’s hard to see how the Democrats can overlook it”, underlined Vivanco.

 source: MercoPress