Pubdate: Thu, 3 Jul 2008
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Times
Author: Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer


The GOP Presidential Candidate Lauds the Nation's Efforts to Curb the 
Illicit Activity. He Also Touts Free Trade and Calls for Improvements 
in Human Rights.

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Fresh from a ride on a fast boat used to chase 
narcotics traffickers, John McCain on Wednesday praised this nation's 
efforts to crack down on its illicit drug trade.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, on the second day of 
a Latin American tour, also continued touting a proposed free-trade 
pact between the United States and Colombia that faces stiff 
Democratic opposition in Congress.

"The progress that I've seen since previous visits here has been 
substantial and positive," McCain said at a morning news conference 
in the historic coastal city of Cartagena.

McCain also gave Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his 
administration a nudge, however, by adding that "in human rights and 
other issues, there's still progress that has to be made."

The Arizona senator helped highlight Colombia's drug interdiction 
efforts by cruising with his wife, Cindy, through the port of 
Cartagena on a U.S.-built Midnight Express fast boat.

The craft, capable of speeds up to 70 mph, is part of a fleet paid 
for by the United States under Plan Colombia, a $5-billion initiative 
to stop the flow of cocaine and other drugs out of the country. The 
fleet patrols the port to thwart drug traffickers who use high-speed 
motorboats to ferry the contraband from Colombia to Central America and Mexico.

McCain also visited a Colombian naval hospital in Cartagena. He 
talked with, and pinned medals on, three Colombian soldiers who lost 
limbs to land mines.

Colombia leads the world in deaths by land mines, most of which are 
planted by leftist rebels.

Just Tuesday, three children were killed by a mine in the 
southwestern state of Narino.

McCain later flew to Mexico, where he will wrap up his Latin American 
tour today.

On that flight he learned that Colombia had freed former presidential 
candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. military contractors who 
were being held by leftist guerrillas.

Earlier, McCain told reporters the release of the hostages, including 
the three Northrop Grumman employees held captive since 2003, would 
be a top priority of his administration.

The economic focus of McCain's trip was repeatedly underscored, 
however, with McCain as well as his traveling companions and campaign 
supporters, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham 
(R-S.C.), all emphasizing the potential benefits of a free-trade 
agreement with the Colombian government.

The campaign of McCain's Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, issued a 
statement saying that the Arizonan's trip to Mexico and Colombia 
"just underscores his insistence on continuing George Bush's failed 
economic policies that have left nearly 2.5 million more workers 
unemployed -- including unfair trade deals that have been written by 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake