Politics & Policy

Colombian Crossroads

Will we help an ally?

Members of Congress returned home for August recess after failing, yet again, to vote on the U.S. Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Sadly, the prospects for a vote later this year appear even bleaker, as the Democratic leadership in Congress has apparently decided for election-year political reasons to let the agreement die. If that occurs, it will be not only a blow to the U.S. economy but to our national security as well.

The most important argument in favor of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is that it is manifestly good for the United States and our interests. The most obvious benefit is expanded trade.

Opponents claim that the agreement will force the U.S. to remove restrictions on Colombia’s exports, resulting in more imports and leading to a loss of jobs and incomes in the U.S. But these opponents do not understand that, because most of Colombia’s exports already enter the U.S. with few or no restrictions, it is Colombia’s barriers that will be removed and U.S. exporters that will benefit.

And expanded U.S. exports to Colombia translate directly into increased jobs and incomes here at home. Colombia will certainly benefit, but the U.S. will benefit more.

But this free-trade agreement is about more than economics. It is essential to securing U.S. strategic interests in this Hemisphere. In a region in which anti-American regimes are aggressively targeting U.S. interests, Colombia remains a steadfast ally. That ally is battling an array of internal and external enemies, and the U.S. has an enormous stake in ensuring that Colombia wins that fight.

Long under siege from leftist guerrillas who once controlled nearly half the country, Colombia has in recent months inflicted major defeats on an armed insurgency that has: sought to overthrow its democratic government; killed and kidnapped thousands of Colombians as well as Americans and other foreigners; and provided protection to drug kingpins shipping billions of dollars of cocaine, heroin, and other illegal drugs to the U.S. every year.

Colombia looks poised to free itself from these threats and achieve peace and long-term stabilities. Given the stakes, our friends and enemies in this Hemisphere are watching how we treat our close ally.

The Colombian government has done everything we have asked of it, even renegotiating the already concluded agreement to add new provisions regarding labor and environmental issues. But to no avail.

As a result, our friends and enemies are in danger of concluding that the U.S. has turned its back on Colombia for short-term domestic political reasons and that the assault on U.S. interests and allies is paying off.

Over the past decade, the once near-hopeless security situation in Colombia has been transformed, with crucial assistance and unwavering support provided by the United States. But there is much left to be done.

Although the insurgency has been severely weakened, there are many thousands of guerrillas still operating. The cultivation and export to the U.S. of illegal drugs continues. And there are large areas of Colombia in which the central government has virtually no presence.

U.S. assistance and support for Colombia has been instrumental in its success, and will continue to be so in the future. But that means more than simply arms and money. The easiest, most direct, and most effective means we have to bolster Colombia at this critical stage is passage of the free-trade agreement.

Congress has a golden opportunity to support our embattled ally and further our own interests. If we falter, so may Colombia, and the achievements of a decade will be needlessly squandered. And then some may ask: “Who lost Colombia?”

— U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida serves as the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


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