Perspectives on Colombia

For those of you interested in Colombia and free trade, I found it striking that such divergent newspapers as The Weekly Standard and The New York Times both came down recently in favor of a free trade pact between the US and Colombia. In The Weekly Standard, Duncan Currie wrote A Strong Case for Colombia. At the Times, it was the editorial board who wrote Time for the Colombian Trade Pact.

What impressed me about both pieces is that they actually addressed what is happening in Colombia. As someone who lived in Colombia for many years, it is rare to find US media that supplies accurate information about Colombia rather than playing to the images we are all familiar with. Going further, they also place this information in the context of the political debates happening in the US.

So is enough being done about human rights violations, for example, the murders of trade union members? Here is what The Weekly Standard says, “[I]t was far safer to be in a union than to be an ordinary citizen in Colombia last year. The unions report that they have 1 million members. Thirty-nine killings in 2007 is a murder rate of 4 unionists per 100,000. There were 15,400 homicides in Colombia last year, not counting combat deaths, according to the national police. That is a murder rate of 34 citizens per 100,000.”

Will American workers be harmed? Here is what the New York Times says, “The trade pact would produce clear benefits for American businesses and their workers. Most Colombian exports are exempt from United States’ tariffs. American exports, however, face high Colombian tariffs and would benefit as the so-called trade promotion agreement brought them down to zero.”

Both the conservative and the liberal sides note that, of course, there is continued violence in Colombia. But the remarkable thing is how much things have improved. Here is The Weekly Standard: “In 2007, according to the Colombian Ministry of Defense, there were 40 percent fewer homicides, 76 percent fewer terrorist attacks, and 83 percent fewer kidnappings than there were in 2002. The number of kidnappings dropped from nearly 2,900 in 2002 to under 500 in 2007.”

So things are changing in Colombia. It is even being played up as a great place to visit, plenty to explore for tourists and anthropologists alike, so see my piece Visiting Colombia for more on that.

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