HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Colombia May Drop Anti-Drug Plan
Pubdate: Wed, 23 May 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Times
Author: Chris Kraul Times, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


A Politician Says That If the U.S. Doesn't Pass a Free-Trade 
Agreement, His Country Could Be Forced to Withdraw.

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- A prominent politician closely allied with 
President Alvaro Uribe said his nation should pull out of a 
U.S.-financed effort to fight drug trafficking and terrorism if the 
American Congress does not pass a free-trade agreement with his country.

Sen. Carlos Garcia, a presidential aspirant and leader of the largest 
bloc in Colombia's Congress, said Monday in an interview that the 
failure to pass the trade accord could force the government to 
withdraw from Plan Colombia, which has cost the United States about 
$5 billion over seven years.

"If the U.S. Congress does not support Colombia in expanding its 
markets, there is absolutely no reason to accept Plan Colombia aid. 
That's just one component of the solution. The best way out of 
poverty and the cultivation of illegal crops is the marketplace," 
said Garcia, who heads Uribe's Social National Unity Party.

The move would salvage "national dignity" and possibly prompt 
Colombia to move away from its close relationship with the United 
States and to closer ties with the European Union and Canada, Garcia said.

Asked whether he spoke for Uribe, Garcia answered, "I believe he 
feels the same way. It would be a logical consequence."

The Uribe government is incensed over the diminished chances for a 
bilateral free-trade agreement, which it has long viewed both as the 
main path to the First World and a reward for carrying on the drug 
fight under Plan Colombia.

Congress and the Bush administration made a deal this month that 
eased the way for passage of bilateral trade accords with Peru and 
Panama, but put Colombia's on hold.

Uribe told an audience of national police Friday that Colombia would 
not accept treatment as a "pariah" and pointedly told representatives 
of the U.S. Embassy in attendance to "take that message back to your Congress."

The harsh tone of Uribe's remarks was unusual.

A week before, Vice President Francisco Santos said the failure to 
pass a free-trade agreement would force Colombia to redefine its 
relations with the U.S.

"From a slap-in-the-face standpoint, it would be pretty bad for 
Colombia," said Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Institute for 
International Economics in Washington. "The foreign policy 
repercussions for the United States in rejecting a Colombian 
agreement also would be severe.... You're talking about adding 
another unfriendly government down there."

Hufbauer said the potential rupture of relations with the country 
commonly referred to as Washington's best friend in Latin America 
would be such a diplomatic reversal that the free-trade agreement 
ultimately would be salvaged.

"I think it will get through Congress on a squeaker," he said.

Uribe's stock in Washington has fallen as revelations have surfaced 
alleging close ties between political allies and outlawed paramilitary groups.

Democrats already were unhappy about weak environmental protection 
and the slayings of scores of Colombian labor union organizers in 
recent years and said that parts of the trade agreement completed 
last summer would have to be rewritten.

Congressional observers say chances of passing a trade bill in any 
form are slim.

"The Uribe government paid very little prosecutorial attention to 
these labor union murders when the Republicans were in control of 
Congress. But they had an election in November and the Democrats took 
charge and they want labor on their side," said Bruce Bagley, a 
political scientist at the University of Miami. "For that reason I 
don't see a free-trade bill passed before the 2008 elections."

Uribe, who has not been linked directly to the paramilitaries, said 
he has made Colombia a safer place by fighting leftist rebels and 
demobilizing the right-wing militias. He said that revelations of 
past massacres, electoral fraud and extortion are an inevitable part 
of the peace and truth process.

Reporters Without Borders, a media-rights group, issued a report 
Tuesday saying that Uribe has allowed demobilized paramilitary 
fighters to maintain their broad criminal enterprises.

Uribe has staked much of his local prestige and political reputation 
on getting Colombian industries and opinion makers to accept a 
free-trade deal, which he has sold to the public as a way to end four 
decades of civil war.

Plan Colombia's results are mixed. It has helped Colombia expand and 
modernize its armed forces and improved security in the cities. But 
the supply of cocaine to U.S. markets has not fallen significantly, 
and prices for the drug remain low, recent studies show.

In an e-mailed comment, U.S. Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (D-Lakewood) a 
Plan Colombia critic, said she found it "hard to believe that 
Colombian government leaders would walk away from a massive 
international aid package that they themselves have lobbied for over 
the years." 
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