<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Uribe’s Attack on Obama

The Far Right’s Spokesman in Latin America Is Worried About What Could Be Long Overdue Changes in US Policy


By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

April 3, 2008

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe revealed his worry about the US presidential contest this week to the Bogotá daily El Tiempo: “I deplore that Senator Obama, aspiring to be president of the US, ignores Colombia’s efforts.”

By “efforts,” Uribe referred to his administration’s public relations campaign to improve Colombia’s deserved reputation as the hemisphere’s worst abuser of human rights, particularly as they apply to workers and unions. Senator Barack Obama, on Wednesday, had cited “the violence against unions in Colombia” as his primary reason for opposing a proposed US-Colombia “free trade” agreement.


Colombian President Alvaro Uribe with former US president Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, September 2007.
D.R. 2007 Reuters
That Uribe singled-out Obama is revealing: the Illinois senator’s rival for the Democratic nomination for president in the United States, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, also says she opposes the US-Colombia “free trade” pact. That clearly doesn’t worry Uribe: the Clinton organization has a long history of backing – politically and economically – the Colombian far right, its narco-politicians and paramilitary death squads, of whom Uribe is supreme leader. In 2000, then-US president Bill Clinton went on Colombian national TV to announce “Plan Colombia,” the multi-billion dollar US military intervention that keeps Uribe and his repressive regime in power to this day.

The Associated Press has now run with the story in English, a reaction to Obama’s statement yesterday before the AFL-CIO of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia:

”I will oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreement if President Bush insists on sending it to Congress because the violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements.”

More extensively quoted in The Philadephia Bulletin, Obama added:

”So you can trust me when I say that whatever trade deals we negotiate when I’m president will be good for American workers, and that they’ll have strong labor and environmental protections that we’ll enforce.”

As conservative columnist Robert Novak noted in his column this week about the possibility that the Bush presidency won’t be able to steer a Colombian trade deal through Congress this year:

“It would humiliate Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a free-trader and a bulwark against the spreading influence in Latin America of Venezuela’s leftist strongman, President Hugo Chavez.”

(For Novak, that’s apparently now the gold standard for trade agreements: not whether they help or hurt American and foreign workers and economies, but, rather, whether rejecting them might “humiliate” another country’s despot.)

Uribe – the emblem of narco-corruption and violent repression of unions and other social movements in Colombia and, indeed, all of Latin America – clearly believes Obama is serious about his positions toward the region that, if implemented by a US president, would ring in a sea change in US policy toward its neighbors in the Western Hemisphere.

The United States – under the Bush administration and the Clinton administration – turned a blind eye to the Colombian’s government’s tacit and explicit backing of paramilitary death squads, often funded by private sector companies and drug trafficking organizations, to break unions, farmer organizations, opposition political groups and assassinate leaders of all of them. As recently as last week, 24 leading religious and human rights groups signed a letter to the Colombian president denouncing statements by an official in his government that contributed to “a climate of political intolerance that fosters violence” toward union leaders.

More than 600 trade unionists have been assassinated under Uribe’s watch. Attacks on reporters have made Colombia the most dangerous country in the hemisphere for journalists, too.

Normally, statements by US politicians about the Colombia government’s widespread corruption and human rights violations haven’t bothered Uribe enough to speak aloud. Latin American oligarchs and strongmen have long counted on the doublespeak of US lawmakers to guarantee support for their regimes even while, during political campaigns, both Republicans and Democrats have said otherwise.

A Break with Failed US Policies

The prospect of an Obama presidency – the Illinois senator currently enjoys a prohibitive lead over rival Clinton in pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention next August, and unless there is a coup d’convention among party insider “superdelegates” he will be the nominee – has Uribe bothered not just because of the senator’s opposition to the trade agreement, but in the context of how, on overall US policy toward Latin America, Obama has repeatedly indicated a clear break from the Bush-Clinton-Bush consensus of the past twenty years. As president of the United States, Obama has said he will:

- Be willing to conduct face-to-face meetings, “without preconditions,” with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez;

Visit four Latin American countries in his first year in office, mentioning Brazil, Chile, Argentina and – much to the dismay of Uribe and other rightists – Bolivia, where democratic leftist Evo Morales is president. The way Obama described his plan to go to South America provided an especially striking contrast to the Clinton-Bush doctrines of demonizing countries (and their leaders) that disagree with Washington over trade issues:

“The starting point is to rebuild the alliances that have been frayed in the past several years, to travel early to key countries like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, but also Bolivia—countries where the assumption is that we don’t have common interests. I think that we do.’’

– Ease the US embargo of Cuba to allow Cuban immigrants in the US to send money and visit family members on the island.

His Democratic rival, Senator Clinton, and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, both cling to a failed status quo in the United States’ anti-democracy policies of imposition toward its neighbors to the South. Clinton, last summer, went so far as to call Obama’s willingness to meet with US-shunned world leaders like Chavez and then-Cuban leader Fidel Castro as “naïve and frankly irresponsible,” and her campaign reiterated – after Obama’s call last August to ease the Cuban embargo – that Senator Clinton, if president, would make no changes to US-Cuban policy.

These are not radical positions by Obama, nor is his opposition to a US-Colombia “free trade” agreement – indeed, they are now mainstream not only among foreign policy analysts and members of the US Congress, but even, in the case of easing the Cuba embargo, among a majority of Cuban-American immigrants in the US - and so Uribe’s vocal panic over Obama’s frontrunner status in the US presidential contest deserves a closer look. What has Uribe so worried?

Since Senator Clinton also claims to oppose the same trade agreement, Uribe’s choice to place singular negative focus on Obama’s statement let the cat out of the bag. Simply put: Uribe (and other leaders of the Latin American far right) accurately perceive that Clinton’s stated opposition is a hollow campaign promise during party primaries that would (in the increasingly unlikely chance she becomes US president) be shoved aside to instead resume the disastrous Latin American policies of the first Clinton administration.

The Uribe regime, after all, continues a chummy friendship with Bill Clinton, granting him the government’s “Colombia Is Passion” Award last June. That, during the same 2007 spring when former vice president Al Gore cancelled his appearance at a Miami environmental conference because he did not want to share a podium with Uribe, the hemisphere’s poster boy for state-sponsored terrorism, narco-trafficking, and assassinations of opposition political, labor and social movement leaders. Angela Montoya, representing the awards committee, told AP that former president “Clinton is Colombia’s best tourism minister because every time he opens his mouth to talk about the country he’s helping to improve our country’s image without even realizing it.”

Bill Clinton returned the favor by hosting Uribe as a “featured attendee” at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York last September.

The Clinton Doctrine: Support for Atrocity

Last month, the government of Ecuador charged that Uribe violated international law by sending the Colombian Armed Forces into Ecuadorian territory in its hunt for guerrilla soldiers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in its Spanish initials). When Uribe’s troops arrived, they massacred twenty people in their sleep, including at least three civilians: Mexican university students that had attended a conference in Ecuador and then accepted an invitation to visit the guerrilla camp. Senator Hillary Clinton was quick to back the Colombian president unconditionally by supporting his military attack and by condemning, instead, the defensive-but-peaceful mobilization by Venezuela Armed Forces to protect its own borders at that uncertain moment:

”Hugo Chavez’s order yesterday to send ten battalions to the Colombian border is unwarranted and dangerous. The Colombian state has every right to defend itself against drug trafficking terrorist organizations that have kidnapped innocent civilians, including American citizens. By praising and supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Chavez is openly siding with terrorists that threaten Colombian democracy and the peace and security of the region. Rather than criticizing Colombia’s actions in combating terrorist groups in the border regions, Venezuela and Ecuador should work with their neighbor to ensure that their territories no longer serve as safe havens for terrorist groups. After reviewing this situation, I am hopeful that the government of Ecuador will determine that its interests lie in closer cooperation with Colombia on this issue…”

That statement provides proof-positive of Senator Clinton’s bent when it comes to US policy in Latin America: to use any crisis to prop-up the Colombian leader while attempting to forward the related agenda of demonizing Venezuela for the problems that Colombia causes in the region. Clinton’s instincts on Colombia are identical to those of the Bush administration and those of the Clinton administration before it: continuance of a doctrine that is hostile to human rights and democracy in the region.

Obama’s response – while it offered banal rhetorical support to the Colombian government – was far less bellicose in tone and substance, urging cooperation in the region “to ensure that events not spiral out of control,” and laying the responsibility, equally, upon all three governments involved:

”The Colombian people have suffered for more than four decades at the hands of a brutal terrorist insurgency, and the Colombian government has every right to defend itself against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The recent targeted killing of a senior FARC leader must not be used as a pretense to ratchet up tensions or to threaten the stability of the region. The presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela have a responsibility to ensure that events not spiral out of control, and to peacefully address any disputes through active diplomacy with the help of international actors.”

Uribe’s statement this week against Obama was more a response to the senator’s call for “diplomacy” in the region – a concept Uribe considers threatening to his US-propped hold on power – than to Obama’s opposition to a trade agreement that so far doesn’t have the votes to get through the US Congress with or without Obama’s opposition. It wasn’t that Obama opposed the trade agreement that bothered Uribe so vocally. It was Obama’s public tying of the agreement to human rights and respect for union organizations that had Uribe apoplectic.

Uribe’s statement against Obama inadvertently tipped his – and Senator Clinton’s – hand on US-Latin America policy, especially as the Bush administration now pushes the extension of Plan Colombia into a new country with an almost identical proposal for a “Plan Mexico.”

And this, too, comes at an hour when Senator Clinton’s conflicting statements about her claim of having opposed, during the Clinton White House, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – when recently released White House documents reveal that she, in fact, lobbied for the treaty’s passage – are getting increased public and press scrutiny in upcoming primary states of Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina, each of which lost more than 20,000 manufacturing jobs because of NAFTA.

Rhetoric vs. Record

Here’s a newly-released video compilation – by The Jed Report – of Senator Clinton’s dishonest claims about having opposed NAFTA, juxtaposed against her documented record of advocacy in making the agreement law:

NAFTA, in addition to putting hundreds of thousands of US laborers out of work when the companies closed their (unionized) shops to open sweatshops in Mexico, simultaneously displaced hundreds of thousands of Mexican farmers from their lands through its agricultural provisions, causing the mass exodus of millions of Mexican immigrants toward the United States over the past 13 years.

Uribe, with his attack this week on Obama, makes it clear which side of the “free trade” barricades he believes his old friends, the Clintons, are really on: the side of continuing the status quo of US military and economic support for his regime’s widespread violation of human rights, in exchange for allowing multinationals (read: campaign and Clinton foundation donors) to loot his country’s human and natural resources.

It’s not just that Senators Clinton and Obama have differences in their position papers regarding Latin America. (This correspondent has too long a history of reporting on politicians – as they campaign and, then, once they win public office – to believe anything their policy wonks put out during a campaign.) It’s their diametrically opposed instincts in response to crisis that are far more telling. Uribe’s worry is not based on how the different Democratic presidential rivals fill out issue-group questionnaires. It is, rather, his very perceptive assessment of their gut reactions when it comes to US-Latin America policy: whether the next US president will pursue the continuance of a failed set of policies that bolster violent regimes like Uribe’s, and greatly harm authentic democracy and human rights in Latin America, or whether – as the Colombian president now openly frets – a new set of policies more in tune with today’s reality than with the Cold War obsessions of the last century marks a new hemispheric doctrine.

In that light, Uribe’s Obamaphobia has a silver lining: What causes Uribe to fear the likely Democratic nominee for president of the United States is that even he believes a change is gonna come.

With this report, Narco News founder and publisher Al Giordano returns from a nine-month leave of absence, during which he has reported the US presidential campaign at The Field (where he continues to post regularly), Counterpunch, the Boston Phoenix and other publications. Readers new to Narco News – reporting on the drug war and democracy from Latin America since April 2000 – are invited to become co-publishers with commenting privileges by clicking here. Al receives email at narconews@gmail.com

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America