Congressman 401 and the Irresponsible Plan

Dave Reichert (AKA Congressman 401) traveled to Colombia this weekend with US Trade Representative Susan Schwab and 8 other lawmakers. The reason for the trip is that the folks who tell Congressman Reichert how to vote are eager to pass a Free Trade Agreement with our strongest South American ally.

One of the things making the passage of the agreement complicated for the Bush Administration is what recently happened in the region. In March, the Colombian military attacked and killed a high-ranking FARC official in Ecuadorean territory along with 22 others. FARC is a left-wing Colombian rebel group that has financed its operations through drug trafficking and actively fights Alvaro Uribe’s government. However, by attacking them on Ecuadorean soil, the Colombians triggered a regional crisis, with both Venezuela and Ecuador sending troops to the border and the Uribe government receiving condemnations from nearly every country in the region. The Colombians were forced to apologize for their actions.

In the wake of this incident, however, President Bush made a speech where he emphasized that passing the free trade agreement was a matter of national security because it was important to send a message to the Colombians that we stand by them in their fight against terrorism. You read that right: following an action by the Colombians that was condemned by nearly every country from Chile to Mexico, the Bush Administration told us that it’s in our national security interests to reward the Colombians. You couldn’t even script a fictional scenario about how the Bush Administration’s foreign policy has been an epic failure better than how that episode actually played out.

But this being a free trade agreement being proposed, it doesn’t just have to do with rewarding the Colombians with more of our military might under the auspices of fighting “narco-terrorists.” It’s largely about eliminating tariffs on the goods that we exchange with them. And these agreements have become a major point of contention, especially within the race for the Democratic nomination. The Democratic candidates are finding it necessary to take strong stands against free trade agreements as the economy worsens. The latest casualty of this backlash against free trade is Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist Mark Penn, who met with the Colombians in support of the agreement, and is no longer working on the Clinton campaign, while his PR firm is no longer working with the Colombian government. It’s a fitting end for the man who made it impossible for many people on the left to support Clinton in the primaries and certainly helped give the nomination to Obama through his own arrogance.

As for Obama, he’s focused on what I also find to be a serious problem with this trade agreement:

Free trade has become an emotional election issue, especially for Democrats. Both Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, contending for the Democratic nomination, oppose the legislation. On Wednesday, Sen. Obama reiterated his opposition, saying that Colombia wasn’t doing enough to stop the killing of Colombian trade unionists.

“The violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these types of agreements,” Mr. Obama said at a meeting of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO in Philadelphia.

“We have made a big effort, and the number has fallen to 26 last year from 205 in 2001,” Mr. Uribe said, speaking of assassinated union members and teachers. “So far this year, there have been 11 murders.”

Human Rights Watch disputes the number. Mr. Vivanco says 17 unionists have been killed so far this year.

Blaming the effects of free trade agreements for the loss of jobs throughout America is an oversimplification that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The more serious problems with free trade agreements occur when we use them as a way to reward bad behavior, or as a way to promote our own failed policies. Both of these things are occurring in Colombia. There’s little difference between the actions of Colombian right-wing paramilitaries and the actions of left-wing rebels. Both groups have a history of using terrorist tactics and funding themselves through drug trafficking. But the left-wing rebels are the “narco-terrorists” who threaten our national security. Why? Because they’re on the same side as those who are demanding labor reforms and other restraints on the corporations that wish to do business there. This administration still equates dissent over their economic philosophy with the threat of terrorism. And because of this, Colombia finds itself increasingly more isolated for their willingess to be our close ally as the rest of South America grows more and more anti-American and anti-capitalist.

And underneath all of this is still Plan Colombia, the multi-billion dollar drug war initiative first unleashed by the Clinton Administration in 2000 and continued by the Bush Administration. The Colombian drug war has always been a ready excuse for the excesses of right-wing paramilitaries, but the complete failure to even make a dent in South American drug production is making it clear what drug policy experts understood all along – it was destined to be a major boondoggle. The Bush Administration may still be able to convince themselves that bombing FARC outposts in the jungles of northern Ecuador will somehow stop the billions of dollars of cocaine from coming into the United States, but people like that should be sitting in rooms with padded walls and not in charge of our military.

As for Congressman 401, his excursion to Colombia was probably a good way to take his mind off of the fact that Darcy Burner is getting a lot of very good press for her work on the Responsible Plan to get out of Iraq. We need a Responsible Plan for Colombia too, but it doesn’t involve rewarding the Colombian government with a free trade agreement at a time when they’re moving the region closer to conflict. It doesn’t involve using the drug war as an excuse for political persecution. And it certainly doesn’t involve the failed drug control strategies like aerial eradication that have done nothing to curb the flow of drugs into this country while devastating the lives of an increasing number of people.

Comments

  1. 1

    ByeByeGOP spews:

    According to the Bush regime everything is a matter of national security. Using the tactics of Bush’s family friend Hitler – you get the people riled up thinking everything is answered with more security and then you take away their rights and lock them all up.

  2. 3

    slingshot spews:

    Perhaps Reichert is going along to help plan an overthrow of Chavez using the master lawman techniques he exibited in the swift capture of Ridgway. Look for the disappearance of the Venezuelan bandit in about twenty years time.

  3. 4

    spews:

    @2
    Maybe, although here are a few articles that categorize Colombia that way:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23521758/

    http://marketplace.publicradio....._colombia/

    http://www.wtop.com/?nid=105&sid=1357003

    The level of cooperation we have with Colombia militarily is certainly not matched by Chile. And it’s probably also important to point out that Chile (like everyone else in the region) reprimanded Colombia for the Reyes attack, which we supported.

    When it comes to overall economic philosophy, Chile is more likely more similar to us, but the Colombian government has far stronger ideological bonds to the authoritarian thugs in the Bush Administration. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what really makes a country an ally – having a shared outlook on security matters.

  4. 5

    proud leftist spews:

    Chile’s president also leans to the left and hasn’t much respect for Mr. Bush. Of course, that hardly differentiates her from the vast majority of Latin Americans.

  5. 6

    spews:

    Lee cites Obama:

    “The violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these types of agreements,” Mr. Obama said at a meeting of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO in Philadelphia.”

    Lee then goes on to say “This administration still equates dissent over their economic philosophy with the threat of terrorism. And because of this, Colombia finds itself increasingly more isolated for their willingness to be our close ally as the rest of South America grows more and more anti-American and anti-capitalist.

    Lee, great analysis!

    But then things get, IMHO, a biot dicey.

    As for Congressman 401, his excursion to Colombia was probably a good way to take his mind off of the fact that Darcy Burner is getting a lot of very good press for her work on the Responsible Plan to get out of Iraq. We need a Responsible Plan for Colombia too, but it doesn’t involve rewarding the Colombian government with a free trade agreement at a time when they’re moving the region closer to conflict.

    Is this HA Darcy vs. Haircutparty line?

    WADR to our little Montlake Social Club, the “RP” has NOT gotten much press outside of doctrinaire liberal circles. Not a single elected rep has adopted it. None of our own delegation has spoken out in Darcy’s support.

    One reason for the lack of support may be the role of General Eaton, a very high adviser to Clinton. I suspect it is because of Gen. Eaton’s role that the RP is bereft of exactly the elements DB might have contributed .. that is specifics about how to get out. As pointed out by both HRC and BHO .. Iraq is SO unstable that no plan makes sense this far ahead.

    Whither “Mission Accomplished?”

    The minimum I would have liked to see in the RP is a thought about what we want to achieve AFTER withdrawal. Without that, the RP gives me nightmare visions of Hillary and Barack (to be impartial) standing on the deck of the Carrier Bush, three years from now declaring Mission Accomplished!

    What mission?
    What goal?
    What would we like to achieve by, as BHO says, “A SMART getting out?”

    Segue

    It seems to me the same issue applies in Columbia. I trust the Bush admin about as much as I would a car built in Afghanistan. So, lets get this treaty trashed or at least delayed until the adults take over. But what then? What are our goals in Columbia????

    I have an answer but it is one that neither Obama nor Hillary and certainly not McCain can accept now. My answer is that our goal should be world wide normalization of the value of labor. ALL the laws of economics say that one can not “protect” a market. If Chinese workers can turn out widgets at a labor cost of $5 and the labor in the USA id going to cost $20, the ONLY choices that exist is to subsidize the American laborer using one form or another of taxation or lose the job.

    Thems the facts, them facts hurt. But .. the same facts that American workers rightly fear have an intriguing implication for a peasant farmer in Columbia. Why grow poppies if there are better, regular jobs? How many Colombians would rather work for the cartel than for Boeing?

    Of course Barack ain’t gonna get on the tube and say, “We can eliminate the drug trade by providing American jobs to Colombians.” As an Obamite, however, I believe that he knows this is the only answer.

    In the long run, the US, like the Soviet Union, Britain, and other imperial powers, can NOT survive on the backs of other peoples. The Columbian worker MUST be able to compete with the US worker on a fair basis. Her only alternatives, if we try to discriminate against the Colombians, are war of one kind or another. Hell, maybe we should be grateful that the drug war takes fewer lives than an insurrection from the south?
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    So, where to go?

    I believe that Obama is a realistic idealist. To get to some sort on anti-colonial, world wide equity we need to secure our own economy by means that offer the peasants in Mexico the same sense of upward progress we hear about as the incentive for peace in rural China. This means, above all, free trade. As Lee says, we should also protect democracy, environment and labor rights as a condition of that trade.

    The latter, however, is BIG hole in the Bush excuse for a trade policy. Leaving aside China’s colonialist behavior toward Tibet, the fact remains that Chinese corporations do not operate in a free market. In effect American workers are competing against China, Inc. where the Army is no different from Lenovo.

    So, it seems to me that we need to rethink our trade policies to do two things:

    1. assure that the market is as fair and flat as possible (even when our own workers are hurt).

    2. structure own economy to be as efficient as possible.

    THEN we won’t have a drug issue.

  6. 7

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Nah, it’s not about free trade, it’s about CHEAP LABOR. At $2.13 an hour (and the boss keeps the tips), U.S. labor is still too expensive to satisfy the CHEAP LABOR CONSERVATIVES. They won’t be happy until they can own slaves again.

  7. 8

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    In case you forgot, $14-million-a-month part-time insurance executive and erstwhile politician Mike “Roadkill” McGavick managed to lose a recent U.S. Senate race against Maria Cantwell, even though 75% of Democratic voters despise Cantwell’s Iraq votes, by campaigning on a platform of a $2.13 minimum wage.

  8. 9

    spews:

    Roger

    From an economist’s POV there is no difference between cheap humans and automation. If I can make a Chevy for 5999.95 and make a profit, regardless sof hwo I cut costs, that Chevy will outsell the clone that has another 5k of labor embedded in it.

    I GM can make Chevies in Mexico and sell them at that price, how many of us non autoworkers would be willing to pay the tax to support building the same car in Detroit?

    Worse, even if our economy could survive the tax, what are we doing but impoverishing uor neighbors who themselves comprise market? How is protecting car jobs any different from protecting American milk, beef, sugar or (not to mention the locally contentious tree product) wood?

    The EU seems to be finding solutions to a lot of these problems. As Ukraine becomes part of the EU, one way of another French workers will need to find a replacement for their hand crafted wheat!

    The obvious challenge is limited world resources but the alternative is not protectionism it is war!

    My belief is that we DO need to revisit NAFTA. The goal is not to weaken the treaty but to strengthen it by focusing on developing Mexico as a full partner as Canada is. That might mean, for example, preferring toys made in Guadalajara over tie made in occupied Tibet!

    I can even imagine a program where we import farm workers for the stup layer rabbits won’t do anymore!

  9. 12

    Broadway Joe spews:

    PL @ 5:

    But while she’s pretty disdainful of Bush (who isn’t these days?), Chilean President Michelle Bachelet isn’t drinking Hugo Chavez’s kool-aid, either. She’s been attempting to walk a more moderate course in dealing with the current Administration.

  10. 13

    Chris Stefan spews:

    With Columbia it is hard to put white and black hats on the players down there. FARC for the most part does act like a bunch of terrorists. The drug lords operate like organized crime pretty much anywhere. The Columbian government has a horrible human rights record (though the current government is a bit better than in the past) and a habit of “disappearing” leftists, populists, and labor activists.

    As for trade I must say I can’t really support the protectionist views some seem to have. However I do think trade needs to be tied to human rights, worker protection, environmental standards, and labor mobility.

    With automation vs. cheap labor I tend to prefer automation at least in the case of developed countries. With automation some well paying jobs are at least kept and there are additional jobs in making and installing the automation equipment.

    Any new trade agreements probably should have worker retraining programs and policies to encourage automation rather than offshoring.