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McCain Receives Warm Welcome to Colombia

By Juliet Eilperin
CARTAGENA, Colombia -- Sen. John McCain showered praise on Colombian President Alvaro Uribe tonight for his efforts to curb drug trafficking and guerrilla activity in his country.

"We have achieved a remarkable degree of success, even though we have a far way to go," McCain said.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, joined by his wife, Cindy, and Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), met with Uribe and his wife, Lina Moreno, at the Casa de Huespedes, the Colombian equivalent of Camp David. The group met for one hour 40 minutes, and discussed issues ranging from free trade to human rights abuses in Colombia.

McCain said he and Uribe discussed "a long list of issues, none of them having to do with the presidential campaign." He declined to mention Sen. Barack Obama by name, even when American reporters asked direct questions about his opponent, saying that he believes "any partisanship ends at the water's edge."

Uribe also emphasized bipartisanship in his remarks, which he delivered in Spanish, noting that he showed McCain and his guests two plaques commemorating the visits of former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush to Colombia. The president made a point of saying he viewed recent comments by Obama "as positive" and that there are "permanent bipartisan policies" between Colombia and the United States.

McCain did not broach the topic of human rights in his opening statement, but he confirmed during a question-and-answer session that he raised the issue with Uribe during their private meeting. The issue of ongoing acts of violence against labor leaders and political dissidents continues to be a sensitive political issue for Colombia and its president.

Uribe is hoping to secure a free trade agreement with the United States but has come under fire for not doing enough to curb human rights abuses at home. Colombia has been embroiled in a civil war for years involving both a leftist guerilla group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and multiple right-wing paramilitaries. According to the National Labor School, Colombia's leading non-governmental organization monitoring labor rights, Colombia leads the world in trade unionist killings, with 2,600 reported murders since 1986. More than 400 trade unionists have been killed under Uribe's tenure.

"I have been a supporter of human rights for my entire life and career," McCain said. "We have discussed this issue with President Uribe, and we will continue to urge progress in that direction, and I believe that progress is being made, and I believe more progress needs to be made."

While McCain reiterated his support for a free trade pact and said he would press for a vote on the matter if elected president, he declined to speculate on what would happen if the United States elected a president with reservations about free trade, such as Obama. "I don't know the answer to that," he said. "I just know that free trade is an important issue, not just for Colombia but for the world, and the US economy."

The news conference, which took place in front of a linear building designed by famed Colombian architect Rogelio Salmona, was not without its technical difficulties. At one point the lamp illuminating Uribe and the visiting lawmakers went out, forcing staffers to aim lights intended for the translators in the direction of McCain and his companions.

McCain also spoke in detail about the government's battle against the FARC, describing it in the same terms he often uses to characterize the war in Iraq.

"Certainly it's my view that significant progress has been made against the FARC in the presidency of President Uribe," he said. "These struggles are always hard. I, again, agree there is a long way to go. This struggle is far from over. But I'm proud of the leadership and work of President Uribe and his strong and brave men and women working in the military."

American human rights and labor groups had pressed McCain before his departure for a more assertive statement on Uribe's human rights record. Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth wrote McCain a letter this week asking him to press for the same kind of respect for human rights he has demanded from leaders in Burma and Russia. Roth painted a bleak picture of conditions in Colombia.

"Accountability for serious crimes is almost non-existent and the rule of law has yet to take hold in much of the country. You would do a valuable service to the cause of human rights and human rights victims in Colombia by publicly raising concerns about these issues during your visit," Roth wrote, adding that in 97 percent of instances where labor leaders have been killed, "there has been no conviction and the killers remain free."

Many congressional Democrats and U.S. labor leaders cite this ongoing violence as a reason against ratifying the free trade agreement. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney said Tuesday that the presumptive GOP nominee was ignoring the harsh conditions under which many Colombians are living.

"McCain has said he would negotiate a 'free trade' agreement with 'almost any country willing to negotiate fairly with us' - without any consideration of the negative job impact on American workers or the egregious abuse of workers' rights abroad," Sweeney said in a statement. "In Colombia, hundreds of trade unionists have been systematically murdered, tortured, kidnapped and threatened by paramilitary organizations during the tenure of President Alvaro Uribe. Yet Sen. McCain will tout the supposed benefits of the proposed U.S.-Colombia [Free Trade Agreement] in the resort city of Cartagena, Colombia, while ignoring the real threats that workers in Colombia face every day."

By Post Editor  |  July 1, 2008; 10:42 PM ET
 
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Comments

John McCain's trade policies with Colombia are already working - as he noted in television interviews this morning, the price of Colombian cocaine is up, a sure sign of a strengthening trade-based economic relationship with this important swing state. Go McCain!

http://www.womenforjohnmccain.com/

Posted by: Christina West | July 2, 2008 5:20 PM | Report abuse

And Uribe, like Calderon, are doing their best, in imperfect countries to avoid losing the Colombian and Mexican state to guerillas and cartels.

The United States will pay for generation to come if we do not support Colombia with their guerilla and drug traficking problem and we will pay even more dearly if the Mexicans fail to gain control over the drug cartels in their country, because we sure doing next to NOTHING in curbing the American OBSESSION AND DEMAND FOR DRUGS.

But, hey, at least when Obama was doing cocaine "experimenting" with it for 7 years, he made sure his dealer was American, not Colombian or Mexican, so in a way he stimulated the US economy in his own weird way.

Posted by: 761-091 | July 2, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Since 1994, the year NAFTA began, there has been a loss of 2.4 manufacturing jobs in the US.

During that same time, NAFTA has generated 39 MILLION JOBS ON AREAS OUTSIDE OF MANUFACTURING IN THE UNITED STATES.

Even Ohio has seen a net gain of 900,000 jobs, including 60,000 in finance, 80,000 in professional services and almost 190,000 in health care.

What part of free trade do you extreme-liberal morons do not get?

Posted by: 761-091 | July 2, 2008 12:46 PM | Report abuse

He's almost returning to the country of his birth as Panama was part of Colombia until 1903 when it revolted and became a separate country with our help so that the canal could be built. Subsequently the Canal Zone was carved out and there John McCain was born 72 years ago next month. A more interesting story today on other new sources is McCain's temper problem in a trip to Nicaragua as related by Senator Thad Cochran who was also there. I am wondering if his next visit to Minnesota will include an appearance in Wabasha for a remake of Grumpy Old Men.

Posted by: ejgallagher1 | July 2, 2008 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Although I support Sen. Obama and generally believe we have to be more careful when we develop free trade agreements, I do believe that we do whatever it takes to craft an agreement with Colombia that helps workers in both nations. Colombia is a beautiful country and valuable ally in S. America, and Uribe deserves some credit for making it a safe place to travel. But the US needs to pressure him to 1) not seek an additional term, 2)continue demanding progress on human rights (particularly as it pertains to paramilitary demobilization and government corruption), and 3) ensure that any trade agreements, as well as 'Plan Colombia' are designed to put the interests of Colombian and US workers and citizens over those of multinational corporations and US strategic interests.

Posted by: FrankAlex | July 2, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

GOP Republican McCain-Bush Have Many Many Many Crisis To Answer For
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McCain-Bush III Iraq War Crisis
McCain-Bush III Relations with Iran Crisis
McCain-Bush III Relations with North Korea Crisis
McCain-Bush III Relations with China Crisis
McCain-Bush III Healthcare Crisis
McCain-Bush III U.S. Economics Crisis
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McCain-Bush III Auto Industry Crisis
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McCain-Bush III Travel Crisis
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McCain-Bush III Energy Crisis
McCain-Bush III Overseas Tax Haven Rich Tax Avoidance Crisis
McCain-Bush III Wage Gap Crisis
McCain-Bush III Lack of Employees' Rights Crisis
McCain-Bush III Dubious War on Drugs Crisis
McCain-Bush III Education Crisis
McCain-Bush III School Shooting Crisis
McCain-Bush III GOP Republican Drug Money Laundering Crisis
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McCain-Bush III Prime Time Soft Pornography Crisis
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Posted by: GOP Republican Failures | July 2, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

People of Colombian heritage in the U.S. are democrats. McCain and his mini me Liberman are wasting their time.

Posted by: truth1 | July 2, 2008 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Actually, Julian, what Derrick posted is quite correct. Under President Uribe, the economic and safety situation in Colombia has increased DRAMATICALLY, to the point where those of us with families in Colombia can now go back and forth and travel the country without fear.

With regard to the comment that Uribe is trying to remain in power like a dictator, that too is false. Uribe put forth an Amendment to the Colombian Constitution in his first term that passed by close to sixty percent that allowed him to run for a second term. He was elected to his second term is 63% of the vote. He remains HUGELY popular, with approval polls posting his support at over 80%.

Moreover, the political killings are down, and the FARC are constantly being marginalized. The public is against the FARC. Moreover, Uribe recently extradited 14 right wing paramilitary leaders to the United States for trial on drug charges. What more do you want from the guy?

I am an avid Obama supporter, and no issue is nearer and dearer to me than Colombia. I wish Obama shared McCain's conviction on Colombia. But it's just one issue out of many important to this country, thus no matter how Obama comes out on Colombia, I will continue to support him.

And BTW, people, will you PLEASE, PLEASE learn how to spell it? Even when it is spelled out for you in the article, it is not COLUMBIA. That is a district, in Washington. It is a company that manufactures outdoor sportswear. It was the name of a NASA shuttle. It is not, however, an sovereign nation in South America.

Posted by: A Colombian Democrat | July 2, 2008 10:42 AM | Report abuse

If I were a reporter, I would have asked McCain: Do you know that Uribe, the president that you are visiting, is trying to change the Constitution to remain in power indefinately, similar to Mugabe or Chávez have done in their countries? You have criticized Obama for saying that he would dialogue with terrorists such as the president of Iran, but you are visiting and shaking hands with a president which government is flooded with scandals of ties with vigilante groups considered terrorist by USA. And the last question: Uribe's government has rejected two reports from UN, one about the rise in coca production , and another about the rise in number of refugees. Uribe has also rejected reports about increase in poverty and unemployment. In all cases his government has came up with new methods to measure all that, to get the desired results. Did you learn about that in your

Posted by: Fausto | July 2, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

st john's connection to colombia:

The co-host of a recent top-dollar fundraiser for Sen. John McCain oversaw the payment of roughly $1.7 million to a Colombian paramilitary group that is today designated a terrorist organization by the United States.

Carl H. Lindner Jr., the billionaire Cincinnati businessman, was CEO of Chiquita Brands International from 1984 to 2001, and remained on the company's board of directors until May 2002. Beginning under his tenure, Chiquita executives paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (known by the Spanish acronym AUC), which is described by George Washington University's National Security Archive as an "illegal right-wing anti-guerrilla group tied to many of the country's most notorious civilian massacres."

Following a Justice Department indictment last year, Chiquita admitted to illegally funding the paramilitaries and agreed to pay a $25 million fine. Chiquita's payments to the AUC began in 1997 and lasted seven years; roughly half of the funds came after the group was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department in 2001.

Posted by: linda | July 2, 2008 9:58 AM | Report abuse

After Cindy returned from Vietnam, she now goes with old man McCain and a couple of senators to Columbia.

I still wonder if she isn't the one collecting illegal foreign campaign contributions for McCain's presidential campaign. Not a bad bag lady!

Posted by: Old Man McCain | July 2, 2008 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Okay so will somebody go tell both 2008
Presidential Candidates,empty suits losers,
Amnesty Juan (John) McCain and Democrat
Messiah Barack Hussein Obama,that they are
supposed to be running for President of
the United States of America,not El Presidente of Mexico or Columbia or in
Messiah Obama case,Marxist Dictator of the
Entire World now then? These two pathetic
clowns need to be discussing solving our
own USA issues,not out trying to recruit
more Illegal Alein Criminals to steal
American Workers Jobs,and dream up more
Un-Fair Trade Agreements,in case they still
don't get it by now! Both Obama and McCain
are the absolutely worst two Presidential
Candidagtes in US History! NOBAMA!

Posted by: Ralphinphnx | July 2, 2008 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Haven't we had enough trade agreements without any regard to workers? Ok, great, progress has been made, but why can't we wait and strike a deal when much more progress has been made? We are offering them a great benefit - why does it have to happen right now, rather than when we actually feel comfortable with it?

This feels like a big campaign ploy to me.

Posted by: Susan | July 2, 2008 9:03 AM | Report abuse

"Colombia leads the world in trade unionist killings, with 2,600 reported murders since 1986. More than 400 trade unionists have been killed under Uribe's tenure."

Is the homage being paid to Colombia by McCain's visit going to stop this killing of labor leaders or encourage its continuation with "free trade"?

Posted by: FirstMouse | July 2, 2008 8:38 AM | Report abuse

OMG Columbia free trade is like the surge in Iraq, does McCain claim he came up with the trade agreement too. I love republican fantasy land

"I agree completely with Vivita, this article fails to mention the dramatic improvements Colombia has seen under Uribe. The security situation in Colombia has drastically improved, kidnappings are down, killings of labor workers are down, murder rate is down throughout the entire country all the while lowering the jobless rate, increasing FDI, and bringing Colombia on the brink of ridding itself of the FARC. I listen to some of these pundits on TV questioning the trade agreement when they know nothing of it. The trade agreements lowers or in some cases eliminates taxes on U.S exports, does Obama prefer the current UNFAIR agreement that exists where U.S exports are taxed while Colombian exports are not?"

Posted by: Julian | July 2, 2008 5:25 AM | Report abuse

More "news" from the sycophantic reporter the wapo has leading the fan base of the press core on the McCain plane.

"John McCains plane landed and everyone just loved him!"

Posted by: Julian | July 2, 2008 5:23 AM | Report abuse

I agree completely with Vivita, this article fails to mention the dramatic improvements Colombia has seen under Uribe. The security situation in Colombia has drastically improved, kidnappings are down, killings of labor workers are down, murder rate is down throughout the entire country all the while lowering the jobless rate, increasing FDI, and bringing Colombia on the brink of ridding itself of the FARC. I listen to some of these pundits on TV questioning the trade agreement when they know nothing of it. The trade agreements lowers or in some cases eliminates taxes on U.S exports, does Obama prefer the current UNFAIR agreement that exists where U.S exports are taxed while Colombian exports are not?

Posted by: Derrick | July 2, 2008 2:45 AM | Report abuse

Dear Juliet: Thanks for your detailed reporting. Great job!

Posted by: peace4world | July 2, 2008 12:40 AM | Report abuse

John 'Juan' McCain pandering to the immigal immigrants: Sneak your people into America and let thm work for pennies in my friend's construction business and I'll grant them all U.S. citizenship. I tried that before and failed, but this time I'll success because I'll be President. A vote for McCain is a vote for illegal immigrants to gain U.S. citizenship.

Posted by: The real McCain | July 2, 2008 12:20 AM | Report abuse

Who paid for the trip? What was the purpose of the trip?

quoted from article [McCain said he and Uribe discussed "a long list of issues, none of them having to do with the presidential campaign."]
Then goes on to say [While McCain reiterated his support for a free trade pact and said he would press for a vote on the matter if elected president, he declined to speculate on what would happen if the United States elected a president with reservations about free trade, such as Obama. "I don't know the answer to that," he said. "I just know that free trade is an important issue, not just for Colombia but for the world, and the US economy."]

Hmmm not a campaign trip?

Again who paid for the trip? The campaign or American taxpayers?

How about some real reporting.

Posted by: Sparky | July 1, 2008 11:36 PM | Report abuse

That labor statistic - 2600 deaths since 1986 - vilely distorts what's going on and the reporter is either lazy or an Obama voter who can't keep her political views to herself.

President Uribe has brought labor deaths down 87%, repeat, 87% since becoming president. The death rate for a labor unionist is more than 100% lower than the population as a whole. Insisting that Colombia has a special labor problem is to play right into the distortions of Big Labor, which does not want a pact.

By destroying the FARC, Uribe brought down the labor union murder rate (and the entire murder rate) by getting rid of the FARC thugs who infiltrate labor unions to destroy them. Raul Reyes was just one such person, but I doubt this reporter has ever heard of him.

This really makes me angry. Slimey distorted reporting that fails to mention the real progress Colombia has achieved in the Uribe years really does the Washington Post a disservice. It's beneath a great paper.

Why do you hire such partisan incompetents? Why can't you do better? Get some real reporters. Certainly some good ones are being laid off these days, you have your pick of serious reporters. Get rid of this lousy reporter, or at least her lousy distorted, straight-from-the-NGOs reports, she is way too close to her leftist sources and cannot report news objectively or with any seriousness.

Posted by: Vivita | July 1, 2008 11:21 PM | Report abuse

Oh, where to Start?

McAmnesty is a MORON. He cannot do any better that to bring Lieberman and Graham along with him-AGAIN!

Senatorial CLOWNS, trying to pretend to be Executives. Sorry, but I think Donald Duck's Nephews know more about Latin American Business Opportunities and Economics than the Three Senatorial Stooges mentioned! :-(

Praises Uribe for his efforts combating Drugs, and FARC.

Golly McAmnesty, bet you had to get seriously briefed for that Insightful and Fruitful Exchange! You are just "Super Statesman"!

Lieberman and Graham. Sheesh!

And he could have had a Mitt Romney there! :-(

Juan McAmnesty is a CERTAIN LOSER! Get his idiotic Arse off the GOP Ticket NOW!

Business Ventures with and IN Latin American Countries like Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Peru!

NO to Amnesty! The Work and the Need for the invaders, is IN Latin America! Mexico, is NOT the Only place to try to get things Done.

Mexico has the most Butt-Headed Protectionist Measures South of the Border!

We can find better Countries to develop and build relations with! When Mexico wants to join the 21Rst Century, we should worry about them! Get the Mexican Government's Invading Influence GONE! THEY, are an Annoying LEECH! :-(

Posted by: SAINT---The | July 1, 2008 11:15 PM | Report abuse

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