Monday, October 20, 2008

Obama Is Wrong About Colombia
Labor unions are much safer under Uribe.

After the final debate between John McCain and Barack Obama last week, the media lost no time digging for dirt on Joe the Plumber. Too bad a similar level of scrutiny was not applied to the slanderous remarks Mr. Obama made against Colombia.

Joe, in case you've been hiding under a rock, is the working-class, well, Joe, from Toledo, Ohio, who last week delivered a neat summation of the Obama economic plan: Increase taxes on successful risk-takers and use the money to expand the welfare rolls.

Joe was practicing what I call the audacity of veracity. He made the Harvard-trained candidate look bad. For that the media decided he needed to be taken down a notch. Meanwhile, the fourth estate walked away from any serious discussion of Mr. Obama's slander of the finest U.S. ally in Latin America.

To be fair, Mr. Obama probably did not set out on Wednesday night to insult millions of Colombians and revive the notion many U.S. neighbors have of the Ugly Gringo. But when Mr. McCain pointed out that opposing the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement doesn't make sense -- because the U.S. is already open to imports from Colombia and because the agreement will open new markets for U.S. exporters during rough economic times -- Mr. Obama was caught flat-footed.

He reached into his memory bank for whatever he had been told to say about Colombia. He seems to have found his hard drive loaded with Big Labor talking points. Here's what it spit out: "The history in Colombia right now," he said, "is that labor leaders have been targeted for assassination, on a fairly consistent basis, and there have not been prosecutions."

Mr. McCain should have blown the whistle right there because bearing false witness against your neighbor, who also happens to be a friend, is a foul. Labor killings in Colombia have gone down sharply in the past five years and convictions have gone up. Mr. Obama was wrong. Moreover, Mr. McCain missed an opportunity to ask Mr. Obama how he squares his antagonism toward Colombia -- whose president has an 80% approval rating -- with his promise to boost America's image abroad.

An American politician ought to know better than to deliver a morality lecture to Colombia. American demand for cocaine, which funds Colombia's worst criminality -- including the bloodthirsty Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) -- has nearly wrecked that beautiful country. Colombians, who have bravely cooperated with the hapless U.S. "war on drugs," have paid a steep price.

By the time President Alvaro Uribe took office in August 2002, Colombia was almost a failed state. That year there were 28,837 homicides nationwide, making it one of the most dangerous places on planet Earth.

There were also 196 union members killed that year. Their deaths were not unrelated to the political violence sweeping the country. The dominant public-sector unions have their roots in a revolutionary ideology that they share with the FARC. This has put them on the left side of Colombia's violent politics for decades. On the other side have been those who took up arms to oppose guerrilla aggression.

Mr. Uribe has worked to restore peace by strengthening the state. This has been bad for both sides. But as the rebels have been pushed back, FARC sympathizers have run to Washington to discredit Mr. Uribe. Democrats have welcomed them. Meanwhile the death toll has dropped dramatically, and union members have especially benefited from improved security.

As a Journal editorial on Friday explained, from 2002 to 2007 the number of murdered Colombian union members dropped by almost 87%. By any fair standard that is progress, especially considering the pattern Mr. Uribe inherited. In 2000, 155 unionists were murdered and in 2001, 205 died. The numbers only started to come down when he took the helm.

In October 2006, the president created a special investigative unit inside the attorney general's office to handle union murders. The unit began operations in February 2007, and it says that as of this August "some 855 cases have open investigations" and that "179 security preventive detention measures have been issued, 61 cases are ready to be referred to court for trial, and 115 suspects have been convicted in 75 sentences."

It is far safer to be a union member today in Colombia than to be a member of the general population. This is a fact, and it would be interesting to know why Mr. Obama has repeatedly refused to acknowledge it.

Is it because of his heavy reliance on campaign contributions from the antitrade AFL-CIO? Or perhaps, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mr. Obama has an ideological bias in favor of Colombia's hard left. If it's the latter, then it is worth asking whether an Obama presidency would change U.S. foreign policy to look more favorably on insurgents of the FARC variety.

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