'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Surpise, Surprise 

So last year Columbia's Alvaro Uribe, a standard issue corrupt rightwing Latin American president and a favorite of the Bush administration, was enmeshed in a big scandal: his administration turns out to be, surprise, surprise, in bed with Columbia's rightwing paramilitaries. A week ago he came up to Washington, lobbying for a standard issue neoliberal free trade agreement.

Quite a depressingly humorous sight: a guy who was just tarnished by a human rights scandal in which he was shown to be actively supporting death squads that kill a couple hundred trade unionists every year trying to get Congress to sign off on a treaty that's primary benefit to US corporations is access to cheap Colombian labor -- labor which is, of course, so cheap mainly because of things like the fact that the rightwing thugs who kill a couple hundred union guys every year frequently use chainsaws.

Pretty standard depressing story right? But here's the amazing thing ... the Democrats didn't go for it. For humor's sake, here's Robert Novak's item from his Evans-Novak Political Report (to which I subscribe ... seriously, I highly recommend it):

Last week's visit to Capitol Hill by Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe to convince congressional Democrats to pass aid and trade legislation was described by insiders as "catastrophic." Influenced by human rights and protectionist lobbies, Democrats had no restraint in dismissing a rare U.S. ally in South America. That constitutes a victory for Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and suggests that President Bush is not the only one in Washington lacking diplomatic skill.

According to The Hill, The Washington Post "expressed editorial shock at the way leading Democrats seemed to go out of their way to insult Colombian President Alvaro Uribe during his visit to this country last week" because I think Nancy Pelosi issued some tepid condemnation of his administration's relationship to paramilitaries. Anyway, the free trade agreement seems to be dead or in serious jeopardy judging by the commotion: some Uribe droid issued a "fuck you, America"-type statement; the statement was quickly retracted; the White House scrambled and, I kid you not, sent down Negroponte, etc.-- although Charlie "I'm Not A Free Trader But I Never Saw a Free Trade Agreement I Didn't Like" Rangel hedged a little to Reuters, as noted here.

All sarcasm aside I find this pretty surprising. Yes, the AFL-CIO was pressuring the Democrats but don't they always? -- I mean the grand daddy of all these things, NAFTA, was a Clinton policy, right? So I really don't know what to make of it. All I can offer is the following two lame thoughts:

(1) The corporations that stood to make money off of this deal were probably uniquely unlikely to throw money in Democratic coffers. For instance, Chiquita Brands International, which coincidentally is also a big funder of Columbian death squads, was up until 2002 controlled by Carl Lindner, Jr. who is friend of Bush's and is from a long line of nasty partisan Republicans.

(2) Even the reddest of red staters -- spurred on probably by the immigration issue -- is starting to understand that what these FTA's mean to them is a bunch of jobs getting shipped south of the border.

If the two above points are true, supporting something like the US-Columbia FTA offers nothing to the Democrats politically -- other than maybe some cheap points and some good press for screwing with Chavez. So, you know, maybe Brooks was right about the death of neoliberalism.

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