Wednesday’s daring rescue of the four most prominent hostages long held by the Colombian narco-terror group known as the FARC is a edifying on several grounds.
First, this brilliant operation joins the ranks of such storied hostage-freeing capers as Israel’s famed raid in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976, Ross Perot’s recovery of two of his contractors amidst the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the Peruvian military’s rescue under Alberto Fujimori of diplomats seized by the Shining Path in 1997. It is a tremendous testimony to the sophistication, professionalism and effectiveness the Colombian military has acquired in recent years, thanks in no small measure to the infusion of billions of dollars worth of training and equipment under the Bush Administration’s “Plan Colombia.”
Second, great credit is due to President Uribe, the most impressive leader in Latin America today. He secured the hostages’ release without paying ransom or other forms of tribute or loss of life. More importantly, he did so despite intense international pressure to accede to political, financial and/or strategic demands from the so-called FARC “militants” who had seized then-Senator Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. military contractors over five years ago. Preeminent among those who insisted these “rebels” be appeased were Nicolas Sarkozy’s government in France and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. The latter engaged in successive, subversive interventions on the FARC’s behalf — compounding the material assistance and safe-haven he has been caught providing these terrorists.
Third, the freeing of the most “valuable” of the FARC’s 700 hostages is a further body-blow to a terrorist organization that once controlled large chunks of Colombian territory — the result of previous efforts by governments in Bogota to appease the unappeasable. Other successful Colombian military and counter-narcotic operations in recent years have depleted the organization’s leadership, demoralized and diminished the FARC’s rank and file and cut into the revenue streams made possible by their international drug-trafficking. While the FARC should not be counted out — especially as long as they enjoy cross-border support from the likes of Chavez — every effort should be made to capitalize on this signal defeat further to dismantle one of the most cancerous blights in the region.
In that connection, it is clearly time for the United States Congress to free its own hostage — the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Colombia. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the FTA prisoner earlier this year as a sop to her party’s left-wing, with its affinity for the hemisphere’s rabidly anti-American Castro-Chavez-FARC elements and its vehement antipathy to the successful, pro-American and right-of-center government in Colombia.
As a result, the majorities the accord would surely command on both sides of Capitol Hill have been unable to express their support. The predictable — and intended — effect has been to humiliate President Uribe at home and penalize him for the steadfastness he has shown in collaborating with the United States to fight the drug war, to counter terrorism and to defend freedom in the region.
Never mind that the economic benefits of the Colombian Free Trade Agreement redound disproportionately to the U.S. After all, under other accords, Colombia’s exports to this country enjoy duty-free status while American exports to Colombia are subject to significant tariffs that would be eliminated once the FTA enters into force. The freedoms enjoyed by independent trade unions and respect for civil liberties under President Uribe compare favorably to nearly all of Latin America — especially the growing number of nations in the region now under the tyrannical control of Hugo Chavez or his surrogates.
The most important case for Nancy Pelosi freeing the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, however, should be made on national security grounds. The United States is extremely fortunate to have in Colombia today a democratic and increasingly prosperous, competently managed and secure ally led by a staunchly pro-American president whose popularity even before yesterday’s success would be the envy of any politician.
Whether the Speaker and her partisans like it or not, passage of the Colombian FTA is absolutely vital to this nation’s security, as well as economic, interests throughout the hemisphere. We must do whatever we can to shore up the important bulwark Colombia represents against the rising tide of the region’s anti-American movements — to say nothing of the increasing presence and influence there of Communist China and Iranian and other Islamofascist operatives.
Upon its return from the Fourth of July recess, Congress should make a first order of business an expression of its admiration and appreciation to President Uribe by ending Speaker Pelosi’s hostage-taking and approving the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia. If not for him, do it for us.
— Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.