Thursday, April 10, 2008

FTA with Colombia

As a Colombian, living in the United States for several years, to watch the democratic candidates debate the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, makes me wonder if I should register republican after my citizenship test. Millions of Colombians around the world had to leave the country after powerful illegal groups threatened their lives. Throughout the 80's and 90’s, paramilitaries and guerrillas, both using ideologies as a facade for their drug trafficking business, became so powerful and prevalent that they penetrated our life in every aspect: Politics, military, civil society, everything was tainted with blood in their pursuit for money at any cost. With huge incentives and profits coming from kidnapping and arms trade, and an addicted neighbor to the north willing to pay anything for cocaine, democracy in Colombia was in a near checkmate.

Most of these problems gradually started to change with President Uribe's democratic security. Nearly all violence measurements have gone down as prosperity and progress generated a momentum not seen in decades. Murders, massacres, kidnappings, etc all were reduced drastically. In addition, an imperfect but unprecedented demobilization of the paramilitaries took place, taking thousand of dangerous men off the conflict. Even though there are clear signs that some of these groups are reemerging, a substantial part of their financial and political support has been wiped out. Equally important, the mystified FARC was wounded like never seem before. The utopia of a Colombia in which we can have justice with ballets and not bullets has never been this close.

Therefore, to see the candidates that will lead this country utilize Colombia as an insignificant tool to upset President Bush and to please a tiny constituency of highly politicized unionist makes me wonder if the republicans are the only ones with double standards. Any piece of evidence; 75% public approval rate, almost 8% economic growth, and many other statistics are put into questions by people saying that such numbers are controlled by the government. They forget that unlike our neighbors, Colombia has strong independent institutions, an active civil society and a pluralistic media not to mention UN agencies and other international organization that have too recognized these accomplishments.

The approval of Free Trade Agreement presents a great opportunity to give continuity to these set of accomplishments. Although the benefits of trade must not be overstated, it is clear that its implementation will be translated into economic prosperity for a country where there is still way too many incentives for informality and illegal activities. Moreover, it is essential to move away from military assistance to economic partnership, as the latter one will reflect the current ground realities, creating markets in the rural sector for a hungry world. The US-Colombia strategic alliance deserves partial credit for the current state of the country and Colombians are very grateful for it. Consequently, it is imperative for the democrats to give continuity to the bipartisan set of policies started by President Clinton in regards to Colombia, the social and political cost is too high to do otherwise.

PS. That is not to say that bilateral trade agreements are the best way to go about trade. Read THIS report by the Brookings institution about the subject.

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