by Mary Anastasia O’Grady
In the five years between the 2002 kidnapping of 12 state legislators by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the rebels’ recent announcement that 11 of those hostages have been killed, much has changed for the better in Colombia. The lawmakers were taken at a time when the state was very weak. Their murders, on the other hand, appear to be a desperate act by a frustrated band of thugs who have failed to achieve their desired results with terror.
Colombia today is significantly more secure and economically healthier than it was in 2002. Yet as events in recent weeks reminded us, two dark clouds remain parked over the country.
The first is the ruthlessness of organized crime networks like the FARC, which have blossomed during the U.S. war against cocaine. Thanks to the policy of prohibition coupled with strong demand, the FARC remains a well-funded menace even though it has no popular support.
The second source of trouble — most recently evidenced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that her party will block the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement — is the unrelenting opposition of Congressional Democrats to anything that could be considered helpful to defeating terror and putting Colombia on surer economic footing.
The U.S. war on drugs, which is backed by both Republicans and Democrats and blames Colombia for the fact that Americans use cocaine, is immoral on its own. But as the guerrillas have gotten into the narcotics trafficking business, Democrats have added insult to injury by arrogantly micromanaging the war from Washington with advice from left-wing NGOs. Passed in 1997, the Leahy Law (named for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D., Vt.) mandates that any officer charged with “credible allegations” of human-rights violations be relieved of his command lest the country lose its U.S. aid to the military. It didn’t take the rebels long to see opportunity in the law. They promptly began ginning up accusations against the country’s finest generals. It didn’t matter that the evidence almost always turned out to be suborned perjury. Careers were destroyed and the armed forces leadership gutted.
President Álvaro Uribe, who took office in August 2002, recognized what was happening and set out to rebuild the military, strengthen the presence of the state and end any speculation that the government might seek a path of appeasement in the face of violence. He has made great progress. The guerrillas are now back on their heels and kidnapping and murder rates are down substantially. Bear Stearns analyst Tim Kearney, who just returned from a trip to Colombia reports that the economy is “firing on all cylinders” due to “a combination of a better security environment, as well as the government’s market-oriented reforms.” He adds that, “with investment driving a powerful rebound, we now think that real GDP growth will reach 6.4% in 2007.”
If Colombia’s hard left was upset before with Mr. Uribe, this has really stirred up the nest. Their only hope is help from Washington so they are returning to what worked before, this time recyling tired old charges that the president has links to paramilitary groups and insisting that the government has been protecting assassins who target union leaders.
Democrats seem only too happy to help. They can’t invoke the Leahy Law against civilians but blocking the FTA in the name of “human rights” is just as good. It satisfies the “sandalistas,” who still dream of a Cuban revolution for all of Latin America, and it makes the most important Democratic Party constituent, the AFL-CIO, happy by knocking off any threat of new international competition.
This may be good for shoring up the Democrat’s base but it is harmful to U.S. geopolitical interests in the Western Hemisphere and to an important U.S. ally and it will dash the hopes for a better life of millions of impoverished Colombians. Either the Democrats have very poor foreign policy judgment or they have sympathy for the devil.
The Democrats’ interventionism also damages the U.S. image in Colombia because it trivializes the will of the Colombian people. Mr. Uribe is immensely popular and the FTA, which he has made his own project, has worked its way through the democratic process. Who are the Democrats to say that the country is not worthy of the partnership? And as for support for the FARC, which Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) once claimed had “legitimate complaints,” Democrats might like to take note of the events surrounding the murder of the lawmakers and the public’s reaction.
The news shocked the Colombian nation, perhaps because only last month Mr. Uribe released a leading FARC commandante, Rodrigo Granda, and more than 100 other prisoners of war as a sign of good faith toward hostage negotiations. On Thursday hundreds of thousands of Colombians all around the country took to the streets to protest the FARC’s kidnapping practices.
The rebels are blaming the government for the hostage deaths, charging that they died in a cross fire. But the military says it had no operations in the area when the FARC claims the conflict occurred. Of course unless the rebels turn the bodies over to a neutral party soon, forensics may not be able to determine how they died. It shouldn’t matter. Even the United Nations released a statement denouncing the loss of life and properly laying blame at the feet of the captors.
It is estimated that the FARC is holding thousands of hostages for ransom. But 45 of them have a special political value in that the FARC thinks they can be used as bargaining chips to win back a large safe haven inside the country. Mr. Uribe has refused, on the grounds that the last time such nonsense was allowed the guerrillas used the protected zone to store their weapons, strategize with Irish Republican Army bomb specialists, house their hostages and launch their vicious attacks. It was during that time that the rebels got the upper hand in the conflict and kidnapped the 12 legislators in Cali.
Democrats may feel they can make Colombia a playground where silly policies that wouldn’t be tolerated in more high-profile arenas can be imposed. But someone ought to call them on it. This is a place that has already suffered far too much for the cause of American self-indulgence.
Source: Wall Street Journal