The surrender of Nelly Avila Moreno, a top commander in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish acronym “FARC”), is yet another milestone in Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s remarkable campaign against the leftist guerilla group. Uribe is succeeding in his efforts to stabilize Colombia even as documents found on captured FARC computers show that Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez has been supporting the FARC’s narco-terrorist activities in Colombia.
This latest outrage from Chávez has prompted calls for Venezuela to be placed on the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Unfortunately, we have every reason to believe that Chávez would welcome such a move. The imposition of sanctions on Venezuela would allow Chávez to deflect attention away from his own misdeeds and onto what he would characterize as an unfair Bush-led attack on Venezuelan interests. It is a sad fact of the world that petty tyrants like Chávez often find their power at a high ebb when they are able to convincingly blame all of their countries’ problems on the United States.
What’s more, the disruption of Venezuelan crude oil imports would hit the U.S. economy hard at a time when gasoline prices are already at record highs. Most of the oil that Venezuela exports is of an extra-heavy crude variety that the U.S. has a unique capacity to refine. Blocking Venezuelan oil imports into the U.S. would have the effect of taking most of Venezuela’s oil off the market — more devastating to Venezuela, to be sure, but nevertheless harmful to the U.S. economy.
The better way to punish Chávez is by supporting Uribe, his regional nemesis and a loyal ally of the U.S., and the single best way to do that right now is to pass the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The Democrats in Congress have stalled the agreement ever since the Bush administration sent it to the Hill last month. Those who oppose the agreement cite an allegedly high rate of violence against unionists in Colombia, even though the number of unionists killed has fallen by 88 percent since 2002, and court records show that most of these murders had nothing to do with unionism.
Colombia is a violent place, but it is much less so today than it was when Uribe began his campaign to eradicate narco-terrorism. Since he first assumed office five years ago, violent acts across the board — murders, kidnappings, assassinations and other acts of terrorism common in Colombia five years ago — have all decreased by double-digit percentages. Now, thanks to information obtained from the captured computers, we know that Uribe’s efforts have succeeded in spite of Chávez’s active support for the Marxist guerillas attempting to overthrow the Colombian government.
As the Cato Institute’s Juan Carlos Hidalgo noted last week on National Review Online, the Democrats have done Chávez an enormous favor by holding up the U.S.-Colombia FTA. Chávez has pointed to the Democrats’ delay as proof that Uribe is isolated and weak. “On his weekly TV show Aló Presidente last Sunday,” Hidalgo wrote, “Chávez noted that the Uribe government has poor relations with its neighbors and with the Americans, ‘since they even rejected the FTA.’”
The political cowardice the Democrats are showing with regard to the U.S.-Colombia FTA is truly astonishing. Almost all of Colombia’s exports already enter the U.S. duty-free. The FTA is nothing more than a formalization of that arrangement; a market-opening opportunity for U.S. businesses; and a show of support for a stalwart ally with whom we share a common threat to peace in the region. As policy, it’s a no-brainer. As politics, it’s proof that today’s Democratic party is more deeply in hock to its labor-union supporters than at any time in the last two decades.