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The Free Trade Agreement Between Colombia and the United States Should be Approved

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In a recent BC article, it was argued that the free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia should be rejected. I disagree. As I understand the article, the agreement would be good for the U.S. economy but bad for the Colombian people, particularly the much abused trade unionists. However, the article provides scant support for the latter proposition, citing murders of trade unionists from the 1980s through the first six months of 2002:

The John F. Henning Center for Labor Relations reports that over 3800 Union leaders and activists have been killed since the 1980's, over 100 in the first six months of 2002.

However, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe was not elected president until 26 May 2002. To blame his government for murders prior to his assumption of office is not a useful exercise; it would be a very poor reason to abandon the free trade agreement.

One thing which should be examined is the significant reduction in violence against trade unionists since 2002. Reliable numbers are difficult to find, and are frequently "massaged" for political and ideological purposes. However, according to a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times,

All sides agree that trade-union murders in Colombia, like all violence, have declined drastically in recent years. The Colombian unions’ own research center says killings dropped to 39 last year from a high of 275 in 1996.

Moreover, it seems that about a third of the murders were historically attributable to the FARC, with most of the rest attributable to various paramilitary organizations. According to the same op-ed piece, demobilization of most paramilitary groups, prosecutions, and government protection of union leaders have substantially reduced the numbers of murders. As suggested below, union activists have not suffered uniquely in Colombia, nor have they benefited uniquely from governmental efforts to ameliorate problems of crime and violence. Much of the change for the better has come under the presidency of Álvaro Uribe.

President Uribe doubtless has flaws, but he was elected to his first term of office with fifty-three percent of the popular vote (one point above President Elect Obama's fifty-two percent). He was reelected on May 28, 2006, receiving about sixty-two percent of the vote (ten points above President Elect Obama's fifty-two percent). According to observers from the Organization of American States, the election occurred in "an atmosphere of freedom, transparency and normalcy," despite incidents "related to the use of indelible ink, voter substitution and the accreditation of electoral witnesses, though these have no effect on the electoral process as a whole" and "developments in northern Santander province that took the lives of army personnel and left others injured in an ambush carried out by subversive groups."

President Uribe is very popular in Colombia, maintaining one of the highest approval ratings of any Latin American president. His ratings have been around seventy to eighty percent, attributed primarily to improvements in security, continuous social programs and sustained economic growth. In June of 2008, President Uribe's approval rate rose to an unprecedented 91.47%.

The murder of unionists is bad, but the numbers are diminishing substantially. Colombia had, and continues to have, other serious problems as well, which are also diminishing substantially. Some might agree that the other problems were at least as troublesome. Colombia was, until recently, the kidnapping center of the world, but kidnappings have also decreased quite dramatically. There were 3,572 in the year 2000, and "only" 521 in 2007, an eighty-five percent percent reduction over an eight year period. Perhaps the figures for 2008 will improve on that. Many of the kidnappings were of children, whose ransoms went to support guerrilla activities.

Roughly seven hundred hostages remained under FARC control in 2007. In that year, millions of Colombians protested the kidnappings. Similarly, in 2008, Colombians again gathered throughout the country to protest kidnappings, principally by FARC. Even the former President of Cuba, Fidel Castro, "lashed out at the guerrillas and said their kidnappings served no revolutionary purpose."

The kidnappings in Colombia have resulted in a very popular, albeit unique to Colombia, radio program, Voices of Kidnapping, which permits relatives of those held prisoner to send messages to them. One such prisoner, Ingrid Betancourt, a former candidate for President in Colombia, was freed from the FARC after six years of captivity. Upon her release, she stated that the words read over the airwaves helped her fend off suicide.

During the program, transmitted by Caracol Radio from midnight to 6 a.m. each Sunday, Hoyos [the program host] takes hundreds of calls from Colombians who hope their kidnapped relatives are listening. Betancourt's mother, husband, son and daughter called regularly.

Captors hand out radios to keep up the morale of the hostages and discourage them from committing suicide. Hoyos calls the program a "cruel mutual need."

My wife and I were in Colombia during much of the year 2002, when it was considered unsafe to leave Cartagena (a reasonably safe place) and travel inland. Riding a bus from Cartagena to Bogotá was considered highly imprudent. As I recall, there were even one or two hijackings of commercial airliners. Things were sufficiently bad that on 15 April 2002, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch wrote to the Commander of FARC:

Commander Marulanda, it is imperative that you take immediate action to stop the kidnapping of all civilians in Colombia, including politicians and elected officials, by the FARC-EP forces under your command. We urge you in the strongest possible terms to order the unconditional release of all kidnapped persons currently held by FARC-EP forces, and to take all steps to ensure the safety of those held hostage by your forces.

The persistent hostage-taking by the FARC-EP is a serious violation of the fundamental protections of international humanitarian law. These protections may not be waived under any condition. As the senior commander of the FARC-EP, you are accountable for the ongoing pattern of human rights violations committed by FARC-EP forces in Colombia. You have the foremost responsibility to ensure that the requirements of international humanitarian laws meant to protect civilians from kidnapping are embraced fully by your forces without condition or further delay.

The FARC-EP's practice of hostage-taking is a serious violation of fundamental humanitarian law protections. We urge you, Commander Marulanda, to make a clear, public commitment to this effect.

The popularity of a country for tourists is probably a decent index of fear. The prospect of being kidnapped can discourage even "adventure tourism." I understand that with the dramatic decline in kidnappings, tourism has increased proportionately. In 2006, tourism officials anticipated approximately 1.5 million tourist visits to Colombia, an increase of about 50% from the previous year. Lonely Planet, a world travel publisher, selected Colombia as one of its top 10 world destinations for 2006. The "pucker factor" involved in traveling in most parts of Colombia is much reduced from 2002.

Substantial human rights progress has been made, although more is needed. I can't offhand think of many countries which have made comparable progress. This appears to be the case even though Colombia has experienced difficulties not experienced in most countries. Draining a swamp full of alligators is a difficult task. Focusing on dissuading an alligator from removing one's arm while others are attempting to remove one's legs can make resolution of other problems more difficult. Colombia has experienced those alligators in spades. Nevertheless, the FARC has lost substantial power during President Uribe's time in office, and the same is true of the Paras, despite the best efforts of Venezuelan President Chavez to destabilize Colombia. Murders and kidnappings have diminished substantially, and it is hoped that they will continue to diminish.

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times recognized the progress made in Colombia, noting:

Democrats have held up the agreement on the grounds that Colombia is an extraordinarily dangerous place for union organizers. They say that encouraging trade in a country where workers have few protections and organizers are routinely threatened and killed would be a disastrous setback to labor rights. This is a valid concern, and Colombia has taken it seriously, strengthening protections for organizers and stepping up prosecution of their attackers.

Colombia remains a violent country where left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and even the military and national police commit human rights abuses and atrocities, but its progress is undeniable. It's time to stop playing games with a trade pact whose economic and political benefits are good for both nations.

I recognize the reality that the U.S. President-elect and the new U.S. Congress have substantial ties to labor organizations, and are in their debt. I hope, however, that recognition will be given to the fact that Colombia has been making excellent strides to overcome her problems for the past six years or so, and that the best interests of the U.S., of Colombia, and of U.S. relations in Latin America in general, will be considered sufficiently important to mandate approval of the free trade agreement. I don't know whether approval of the agreement can reasonably be considered a reward for Colombia's efforts thus far, but rejection would, quite properly, be viewed as a significant slap in the face. It is high time for the agreement to be approved, and the delay has damaged U.S. relations not only with Colombia, but with her neighbor, Panama, whose free trade agreement is tied to Colombia's; ostensibly because the agreement with Colombia was signed first.

My left-leaning friends often argue that the United States should refrain from imposing its ways on other countries. I agree that we should not impose our ways, but feel that we should encourage those states which try to practice them and which try hard, and with notable success, to deal with human rights violations. Colombia is doing an imperfect, but nevertheless good job in that regard. To slap Colombia in the face to placate a substantial Democratic Party constituency on ideological grounds, while simultaneously causing harm to the U.S. economy and to our relations with Latin America, would be an inauspicious start to the Obama presidency.

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About Dan Miller

  • Dan- I must say that while I disagree with you, I am very flatterd by your response article. Thank you for dialog.

    To begin, while President Uribe has greatly improved on the Colombian government and general rule of law, he has not brought it to the standards with which we should operate. Colombia still does not meet the International Labor Organizations’ standards. Shall we just ignore that? Shall we still operate under a Unitarian leader who feels that international organizations, i.e. NATO, mean nothing? I did not vote that way, nor do I want my country led in that way any longer.

    There are still unionists being murdered for attempting to earn the basics such as health insurance and maternity leave. The Colombian government is still tied to the right-wing paramilitary groups that are responsible for far too many Colombian deaths. I wonder, if as you stated in your article, the fact that there are minimal numbers to date is due to diliberate actions by the government to keep it that way. Additonally, 521 kidnappings is too many. Yes, it is better than 3572, but still not a number that we should condone with a trade agreement.

    I agree that this is not a way for Obama’s presidency to begin, but as with many of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his entrance into the White House, this is one that he will have to face. It only makes matters worse that Bush has basically held the automotive industry bail-out funds hostage based on Obama’s approval of the CFTA.

    Honestly Dan, it seems obvious to me that free trade is a wonderful thing. At its core it offers innovation and success to all who are willing to take a plung into it.

    As I state this fact, it should aslo be added (again)that 90% of all Colombian imports into the US enter duty-free. If the CFTA passes, immediately 80% of US exports to Colombia will become duty-free. While the US benefit is obvious, I still struggle to see what the Colombian people really gain from this. Cheaper products; how will they buy them with less than minimal wage? Lower prices on medicine; how will that matter if they have no prescription coverage nor any sick days to recover from a flu-or even child delivery?

    My article came from a ideological stand-point. The United States has an automotive industry to save, as well as banking and mortgage industries to salvage. We will benefit when these problems are fixed. A trade agreement with Colombia is no where near the only means to which we can improve our economic situation.

    If hundreds of people are still being kidnapped in Colombia and unionists are still being murdered, then we should not be strengthening ties to their economy. The FARC is responsible for a countless amount of Colombian lives, so why not put energy and resource into ensuring the military aid that we already give to Colomiba to combat the FARC are being used for the termination of that movement. If you notice, I do not critize Uribe or the progress that he has made in Colombia. I argue that it is simply not enough.

  • As you quote them in your artcile, I thought further examination was in order.Respectfully, this just off the Human Rights Watch Web Site: June 2008 Letter to John McCain from Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth


    “The United States should not grant permanent duty-free access to goods that are, in many cases, produced by workers who cannot exercise their rights without fear of being killed.”

    “The letter goes on to describe in detail six serious human rights problems that the Colombian government tends to minimize, including the continuing violence by paramilitary groups. Despite the recent extradition to the United States of several top paramilitary commanders, the letter notes that new groups have cropped up all over the country, are actively recruiting new members, and are threatening and killing civilians. The letter also highlights the rise of internally displaced civilians, as well as an increase in recent years of extrajudicial executions of civilians by the Colombian army – a problem that Uribe has repeatedly refused to recognize.”

    “More than 60 members of President Álvaro Uribe’s coalition in the Colombian Congress – representing approximately 20 percent of the Congress – are under investigation for rigging elections or collaborating with paramilitaries, considered terrorists by the United States. The Colombian Supreme Court, which started the investigations, has repeatedly come under attack from high-level government officials, including Uribe himself.”

    “Key institutions like the Colombian Congress are now undergoing a major crisis of legitimacy, one that is unprecedented not only in Colombia but in all of Latin America. We urge you to make protecting and defending Colombian democratic institutions, particularly its institutions of justice, a top priority in your meetings.”


  • Condor

    President Uribe has ushered in a stabilzing government in the region. He has cleaned house and turned Columbia away from the path of destructivness. And he’s still alive! He is a strong ally in the area. Should we just let that go? I don’t think so. The next step in Columbia’s rise from the ashheap is to bolster the production capability. Columbia needs this.

    The ISO can move in and help with the standards. Why would we wish to squash the efforts?

  • I do not believe we should “squash efforts”. I simply feel that there is a lot more work to be done, and a longer period of time should pass before we settle into an agreement with Colombia. I will state that Uribe is by far the best leader to enter into Colombia in decades (survival being the most notable trait), but Congress is still on the arm of paramilitaries and labor rights are weak to put it mildly.

    It is clear that economic benefits will occur from a CFTA, but at the price of lives-and that price is too high.

  • Keekster,

    Many thanks for your comments. I write these articles mainly to precipitate discussion, and often the discussion is rational and good. Clearly, we disagree on points of ideology, and I think that’s great. It is much more fun to discuss such matters with those who disagree than with those who agree.

    I was very happy to see your article on the Colombian free trade agreement, because I am concerned that Latin America is of very little interest in the United States and that consequently misconceptions are endemic. It seems unlikely that many college graduates in the United States could find Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and other Latin American countries on an unlabeled map. I doubt that anything approaching fifty percent of the members of Congress could do so unassisted, even though what happens to the south is potentially at least as important to the United States as what happens to the east or west.

    My wife and have lived in Panama since late 2002, and we love it here. We live in a very rural area, and I have little contact, except via the newspapers, with what goes on in the major urban areas, such as Panama City. That said, I feel more free here than I did in the U.S. It is my perception that most people in our area would be considered poor by U.S. standards. Some have television sets, few have cars and most work very hard to support their families, on wages of about $1.00 per hour. Welfare, widely seen as necessary in the United States, is almost non existent. The local churches help those in need, and other non-governmental organizations do so as well. The family is very important here, and in times of need is the most commonly relied upon resource. There are clearly problems in very remote areas where many indigenous people (Indios or Indianans) live, and small steps are being taken by the Government and NGOs to ameliorate those problems. However, most of the people here don’t seem to consider themselves poor. Nor, I feel, should we.

    The point I am trying to make is that attempting to change the world to make it conform to what people in the U.S. find congenial is a mistake, even when done with the best of intentions. More often than not, it heightens the feeling of misery, while doing little to make life better. Back in 1977, I spent some time in Haiti — a very poor place. I visited a Baptist mission up in the hills, where the missionaries were teaching the people two things: 1) how to grow strawberries and 2) that they were poor and miserable. I assume that they were also trying to bring Christianity to the heathen. Presumably, teaching them that they were poor and miserable was unintentional, but it was a result nonetheless. Since then, they have become even poorer and more miserable.

    Many Gringos now live in a community about forty KM away from us, and they have brought dramatic change to the lives of the local people. With money to burn, they tend to pay far more for services than would the locals, to tip according to U.S. standards, and to change the local economy to the extent that the local people see their economic situation in decline. It is not uncommon for a maid to earn more working three or four hours a day for a Gringo than does her husband who works eight hours a day as a bank clerk. While the money is nice to have, this distorts the customary family relationship and diminishes those who do not work for Gringos by making them relatively less affluent. Consequently, they often find it difficult to purchase necessities at prices inflated by those who do work for Gringos.

    Panama has labor laws which, while different from those in the United States, are in many respects more tilted toward the employees. The social security system provides reasonably good medical care for employees and their families, while working and after retirement, at no cost beyond a minor contribution to the social security fund (the employers’ contributions are roughly double those of the employees’). The costs are low even for those not covered by social security. Here is a recent article about medical care here. Based on my personal experiences, it is overall better than in the United States and far less expensive. To impose a requirement on employers to provide medical insurance to their employees, over and above that provided via the social security system, would distort the existing system by increasing the employers’ costs without providing any significant benefit to the employees. I have no idea whether that would be the case in Colombia.

    In Panama City, where construction of apartment buildings, offices and other large structures is going on at an incredible rate, unions have done some good but have also caused substantial problems. The principal union is much favored by the Venezuelan Government, and there is some legitimate concern that the followers of Venezuelan President Chavez are becoming excessively powerful. Chavez is, in my view, a bad person who has done much to destroy his country while making the lives of Venezuelans worse economically and politically. We were in Venezuela for about a year, off and on, back in 2000 and 2001; things weren’t great before Chavez came to power, and over the last few years have become much worse. Here is a link to a Venezuelan anti-Chavez blog which monitors the socioeconomic situation there and which I am amazed is still alive. The situation is not pretty, and I would hate to see anything similar happen here. I suspect that most Colombians, who live in closer proximity to Venezuela than I do, are at least as concerned. And, I understand, many of the labor activists in Colombia are actively supported and otherwise encouraged by the Chavez government. That may well be among the reasons that Colombian labor unions are experiencing difficulty. Gradual change would probably be welcomed, revolutionary change is not.

    This rambling comment has gone on far too long, so I shall stop. Again, thanks for your comments, and I hope to see you on BC on a regular basis.


  • Clavos

    It is clear that economic benefits will occur from a CFTA, but at the price of lives-and that price is too high.

    I disagree. I think you’re looking at the issue backwards.

    Lives will not be lost because of the US signing the CFTA with Uribe; the lives are already being lost, the CFTA provides the Uribe government with yet another weapon (increased prosperity) to defeat the FARC, which will ultimately result in fewer, not more, lives being taken.

    Withholding the CFTA will weaken Uribe and strengthen FARC.

  • Uribe has been able to diminish the amount of unionists murders and political kidnappings. While I, the ILO and the Human Rights Watch, do not believe that it has been enough, nor do I believe enough time has passed to truly measure his success at this; he has made these visible improvements. Colombia is third in line of military aid from the U.S. President Uribe, as any Colombian president would, has enough weapons!

    Please do not forget that President Uribe is not the only government official in the country. The congress as well as local officials also have control over the rule of law, or lack there of in Colombia.

    We have an international system in place that deems it necessary to qualify first for trade agreement status-not the other way around. That is not backwards, it is a method of maintaining human rights and environmental protection. I know these things are unpopular and sometimes hinder the ability for mass corporations to make their biliions, but they do make sense from an ideological stand-point.

    Colombia has a most favored nation status. Their economy is not being hindered by the hault of the CFTA passage. Their labor force is under-valued; that hinders their economy. They get billions a year in U.S. weapondry. They simply do not need more. They need to faciliate the proper management of both of those assets. Then and only then would they be in a position that resembles the standard for consideration in a CFTA.

  • Dan-

    It sounds like you have had an amazing life! I would love to travel that much to so many amazing, even if under-developed places. I totally agree with you about the imposition of “U.S.” culture on other countries. I do believe Human Rights sees no boundaries, but I absolutely think that much of we impose is not in the iterest of “humanity”. Much of what we push on the world is really only in the interest of “our humanity”. That is a problem and we are the guily party.

    The life style in much of Latin America, and many other parts of the world, focuses on family and the pure joy of life that we so easily loose track of in the U.S. I know this first-hand.

    I struggle with when is the appropriate time to take my young daughter to Peru and show her the beauty of her own heritage. I would love to do so immediately. However, the daily grinde here, i.e., intense work schedule, hyper-vigilant financing and the addiction to the daily routine is a constant challenge.

    I truly love the diverse dialog and admire your life and travels!Oh, my mom is a fellow Yale graduate and my step-mom a UVA grad, so we do have some things in common. 🙂 Myself, I went the Georgetown route.

    I look forward to future discussions.

  • Les Slater

    I agree with Clavos to the extent that if Colombia does produce more for export it needs more workers to produce those products. The need for more workers strengthens the position of those workers and that of their unions.

    The problem is not trade, certainly not the export side of it, but the support of those that are repressing the workers, including their attempts at building effective unions.

    We should demand all military support for Colombia be ended. See Militant editorial, End U.S. military aid to Colombia and Militant news article, Colombian army units executed civilians

  • Dan –

    On the perception that you feel more free in Panama than in America – I’ve had much the same experience in the Philippines. It’s really eye-opening to see people who are financially much poorer than here in America…but they live happier, more fulfilling lives.

    But to all who consider the life of an expatriate – find SOMETHING to do there, whether it’s working, teaching, business, whatever. Do not allow yourselves to become bored. That’s the lesson I learned from several expatriates I’ve known over the years who returned to America.

    Me, I’ll teach. It doesn’t matter that I’d get paid peanuts – I’d be able to stand up telling sea stories to a captive audience! Life doesn’t get much better than that….

  • Glen,

    Thanks for the advice. I do try to stay busy, and now that the rainy season is drawing to a close hope to do a better job of it. Working with horses is pretty much my thing, and has been for a long time. Since more people in our neck of the woods have horses than have cars, that provides an element of common interest. My wife paints and sings (usually not simultaneously), and is good at both. Many Panamanians are involved with the groups in which participates.

    I would add to the advice: don’t socialize primarily with Gringos. If one wanted to do that, there would not be much point in being here.


  • Les,

    Thanks for the Militant links. In case anyone is interested, here is a link to the Militant home page. It was fascinating to explore a bit and to get a sense of where they are coming from. Unfortunately, perhaps, I find myself in just about total disagreement with their apparent social and political views and therefore find it difficult to accept some of their assertions of fact. Like many organizations, I suspect that their views color their perceptions of reality; doubtless mine do as well. You may possibly have noticed.


  • Les Slater


    Speaking of views and perceptions, what did you think of the first paragraph of my #9?


  • Les-

    If I may address your #9…

    The more Colombia produces and hence exports means that more work will have to be done, but it does not mean that more workers will be involved to do it. If the workers are not properly protected, they just end up with longer days or a longer work week. A person who is afraid of losing their job, will not argue with having to work harder and with noone to fight for them the situiation will remain stagnant.

    In theory, the need for a larger work force would give them power to “negotiate” for their labor rights. In practice, governments play a large role in this-in the forms of regulation, labor standards set and labor laws. Currently, in Colombia, anyone who dares to stand up for labor rights is at risk of torture and/or death. The improvements made in the country make it less of a certainty that one will suffer this end, but it is still an absolute risk.

  • Les,

    I don’t disagree. I think that the United States should do whatever she can to help her allies (or anyone else, for that matter), provided that it is in the long term best interests of the United States. Countries, like businesses, are not charitable organizations; they have a fiduciary obligation to their citizens/stockholders, which pretty much forecloses pure charity. Obviously, reasonable men can and do differ quite a lot about what is in the long term best interest of the United States. Rival ideologies probably exacerbate the differences.

    I think it would be in the long term best interest of the United States to encourage further commercial development in Colombia, and as you suggest that might stimulate the development of trade unionism. On the other hand, it might not. According to the NY Times op ed piece cited in my article,

    the level of unionization in Colombia is roughly equal to that in the United States and slightly below the level in the rest of Latin America.

    Here is a link to a fascinating article which suggests that the free trade agreement might be quite helpful to workers who want to unionize, although not to the dominant unions. I tend to agree with the analysis, but see my comment #12.

    Whether the free trade agreement would actually be likely to stimulate either the United States or Colombian economies, or to help or hurt workers or trade unions, is beyond my pay grade. My guess is that it would not do much either way, except perhaps by way of promoting stability and the rule of law. I do think, however, that it is a viable tool for regional accord and that that would be a good thing. Other things being equal, amicable relations are better than hostile relations.


  • Dan-

    In your vast experience, do all things ever really hold as equal?

  • Keekster,

    Why yes. Of course they do. Two of the local beers, Atlas and Panama, strike me as about as close to equal as one could possibly get in flavor, texture, price, etc. Beyond that, however, no.


  • Les Slater


    Even working longer hours can put workers in a better situation. The point is that the boss NEEDS the greater labor power.

    The real issue is that such a government should not get any military support from our tax dollars. They are third at the trough after Israel and Egypt.


  • Cindy D

    Indigenous Colombians Begin 10,000-Strong March Against Uribe Government

    More than 10,000 indigenous Colombians have begun a protest march against President Alvaro Uribe. Marchers are protesting the militarization of their territories, the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and the failure of Uribe’s administration to fulfill various accords with the indigenous communities.

  • Cindy D

    And from this second article dated Nov. 12th:

    …it started over a month ago on October 11th, and they’re marching all the way from Cali and different parts of the country, they’ll be arriving in Bogota, the capital, next week. And they’re calling attention to not only the question of the trade union movement being targeted under the Uribe administration, thereby negating the idea of a US free trade agreement with Colombia, but they’re also talking–pointing to the fact that 1,200 indigenous activists have been killed over the six years since Uribe has been in office, over 400,000 indigenous communities have been displaced, and there’s a whole litany of human rights concerns, the most recent being the controversy around the false positives, the murder of innocent civilians taken out of poor neighborhoods in different parts of Colombia, executed on the spot by Colombian army officers and then dressed up as guerrillas and presented as if they were combat deaths, to show that they’re making progress in the war against, quote-unquote, “terrorism.” This is finally becoming public, and it’s a major scandal here in Colombia.

  • Dan –

    I agree – don’t hang out with the Gringos. I never did when I was there. In my experience, whenever I meet another ‘Cano (for Americano), we seem to view each other with instant suspicion – “So why are YOU here?”

    One more happy story. At our house there, at noon one day we called up the rest of the family (they lived about 30-45 mins away depending on traffic) and invited them all over for dinner. Six hours later I had at least twenty-five family members over, all laughing, joking…and I had to wonder – what would it take here in America to get twenty-five family members together on six hours’ notice?

    Ain’t gonna happen. Someone could die or you could win the lotto and it ain’t gonna happen.

    This doesn’t mean that everything is better there – it’s not! But for the most part, I see them living happier and more fulfilling (if much poorer financially) lives.

  • According to a recent book by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y), the United States under President Obama will no longer “impose our own ideology” around the world. I like that idea. Accordingly, Representative Maloney* anticipates a change in policy under which the United States will help fund the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which has not been funded by the U.S. for six years because UNFPA provides support to China in implementing its policy of forced abortions and sterilizations, to further its one child policy. This is presumably good, despite its arguably draconian human rights implications. Apparently it is acceptable to provide funds to force women who don’t want abortions or don’t want to be sterilized to submit.

    However, for reasons I don’t understand, the idea of not imposing “our own ideology” through the denial of funding has no relevance to the free trade agreement with Colombia. Approval should be deferred until Colombia makes improvements, satisfactory to the U.S. trade union movement, in the way in which it allegedly deals with trade union activists; we should ignore the substantial progress which has been made since mid 2002, and demand a whole lot more.

    I detect a bit of a contradiction here; perhaps it’s just me. I recognize that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, but go figure.


    * rhymes with baloney.

  • Cindy D,

    I have read the links provided in your comments #19 and 20, with the same degree of skepticism which I assume you will bring to the link provided in my comment #15.

    Although my less than extensive experiences in Venezuela and Colombia, and my rather more intensive experiences in Panama, suggest that the link in my Comment #15 is closer to the mark, I recognize that most such articles tend to cherry-pick facts and statements of fact to support their inherent biases. To the limited extent that there is any interest at all in the free trade agreement with Colombia, the focus seems to be more on making ideologically useful points than on anything else.


  • Glen, in Comment #21 you say, for the most part, I see them living happier and more fulfilling (if much poorer financially) lives. I agree.

    Why do you suppose it is that way? The Church, the family, lack of geographical mobility, a necessary focus on survival, or what?


  • Hm. I think it’s a combination of things – certainly the three you listed (not necessarily in that order), but I would also add that there is less of a, um, I forget the name of it – the idea that one must have a three-bedroom house full of modern appliances on an acre of land to be happy.

    Strangely enough, I think the poverty – the ‘focus on survival’ as you pointed out – does indirectly add to the happiness, in that the children aren’t all whining that they don’t have the newest game for the Playstation, or that they don’t have an iPhone like all the other kids – instead they learn to play together as kids have done from time immemorial…and the social lessons they learn there stay with them throughout their lives. I’ll never forget watching my youngest son play with over a dozen squatter kids – not understanding their language, but he was having so much more fun than when he’s watching the television.

    But as I’m sure you’ve also experienced in Panama, the pace of life is SO much slower than here in America. A nephew of mine (who grew up in the slums, got a scholarship and was hired by Shell as an HR manager and now (at the age of 24) is being flown around the planet business class (the lucky brat! YES, I’m jealous!) came to visit me here in Puget Sound. My city has about 40,000 people…and he told me how he felt like he was ‘in the province’ – which is how they say they’re ‘out in the boonies’. Of course, when you come from a city that’s nearing 15 million souls, we are a bit smaller than he’s used to.

    Another observation – the bookstores. I’ve been to at least ten bookstores in the Metro Manila area…and only one compares to the bookstores here in America (maybe one-third of a Barnes and Nobles). With all the other bookstores, maybe a quarter of each bookstore was dedicated to works of fiction, and the rest was almost solely dedicated to technical and professional-development books. On the one hand, I was sad for the wonder of works of fiction that most were missing out on, but I could also understand how driven they are to compete not only with each other, but internationally since there are so many Filipinos work overseas. In fact, I recently read that one-third of the worldwide total of merchant marine crewmembers and officers are Filipino.

    I would also add that it’s a MUCH nice place to get old – no nursing homes. My wife’s grandmother was nearly blind, nearly deaf, bedridden, living in a poverty-stricken compound with no air conditioning…but every day she got to hear her grandchildren and great-grandchildren playing and singing. That’s why I stay on VERY good terms with the family there – I’ve got almost no family here and I refuse to ever be sentenced to a nursing home.

    YES, I love to tell sea stories – now I’d better get to bed before my Darling gets mad….

  • According to this story from CBS News, the State of Arizona has already had two hundred and eighty-six reported kidnappings this year, most of them apparently by drug cartel affiliates. Arizona had an estimated 2006 population of 6,166,318.

    In 2007, Colombia had five hundred and twenty-one reported kidnappings, most of them more than likely by FARC or otherwise drug related. Colombia had an estimated 2008 population of 45,013,672.

    Although these numbers are not directly comparable, for many reasons, it is still interesting to see that Colombia, with more than seven times the population of Arizona, had less than double the number of reported kidnappings. What does this prove? Not much; it does, however, provide an element of perspective in viewing Colombia’s problems.


  • Clavos

    Accordingly, Representative Maloney* anticipates a change in policy under which the United States will help fund the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which has not been funded by the U.S. for six years because UNFPA provides support to China in implementing its policy of forced abortions and sterilizations, to further its one child policy. This is presumably good, despite its arguably draconian human rights implications. Apparently it is acceptable to provide funds to force women who don’t want abortions or don’t want to be sterilized to submit.


  • Zedd


    Do you really believe what you just posted?

    Look, as a person of the “dark continent” who is familiar with Western exotic depictions of the others, this smacks highly of White goofiness. I guarantee it’s wrong. Much like head hunters craving white slaves in the every jungle region of the planet or thinking my 5’6″ middle aged beer bellied, sweet brother is a scary Black guy, it’s goofy. Walk away and laugh.

  • Clavos

    I have no idea what you’re talking about, Zedd…

  • Clavos

    And, I suspect, you have even less of an idea of the meaning of my comment…

  • Zedd

    Do tell

  • Zedd

    Don’t make me wait. The mystery is killing me. Please! I want to be in the know.

    Really Clav.

    Your joke was nice but garbage about the UN and the world in general is spewed out there without any commentary. I thought it necessary to point out that the assessment of the UN project was garbage. It had to be said.

    But since it’s important to you, here goes…. You were clever and are a really funny person. You are sneaky in your wit, which puts you in a special category of the elite. You do it without trying. While I realise that my saying so doesn’t have as much of a jolt for you as if say a gringo, particularly one of a certain background, an ivy league or something that your romantic sensibility would find sexy, your cleverness is unmistakable. Hey I once knew someone who claimed she was Anastasia. Perhaps if I had her tell you that you were clever and witty, you’d stop trying so hard.

  • Clavos

    Here’s a hint, Zedd:

    My comment, like Dan’s, was directed against Rep. Maloney and her “anticipations,” aand against the activities of the UN Population Fund.

    And, it was sarcastic.

    I expect that Dan, to whom it was directed, got it.

  • Zedd,

    You might want to look at my comment #22 and the linked text. Then, the mystery of Clav’s sarcasm might unravel.


  • Here is a poetry lesson from a Venezuelan blogger, referring to the provincial elections in the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Venezuela.

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Excerpt from “The Second Coming” by WB Yeats.

    There may be some who might think it has application to the present barely audible debate over the free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia. The article is interesting as well.


  • Clavos

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Repeated for emphasis

  • Zedd


    I know what Clav was responding to. I think your statement was a distortion. Does that help. I think the entire mystery is unraveled.

    I should have said that from the start. Garbage! Either you are faining ignorance or you just don’t get it(which would be a disappointment). Next.