As you may remember, this is not a new obsession for McCain. Puzzlingly, the first thing he did after he clinched the Republican nomination, at the beginning of July, was to get on a plane and go to…Colombia. That’s where he chose to spend the Glorious Fourth. Or maybe not so puzzlingly. In the second paragraph of the New York Times story previewing the trip, Larry Rohter wrote:Read it below...Since 1998, the lobbying firm headed until recently by Charlie Black, one of Mr. McCain’s closest confidants, has earned more than $1.8 million representing the Occidental Petroleum Corporation, the leading foreign producer of gas and oil in Colombia. The lobbying firm, BKSH & Associates, has also represented Colombian textile and apparel manufacturers and a former foreign minister and presidential candidate who is also a prominent businesswoman.
Hail, Hail Colombia
Barack Obama may have gone to Colombia, but John McCain went to Colombia. Therein lies a tale.
One of the most curious, and little-remarked, features of this week’s Presidential debate was that the only foreign country to get more than cursory treatment was Columbia, known to most television-watching, non-García Márquez-reading North Americans as a land of rich drug lords, leftist guerrillas, rightist death squads, and ubiquitous coca plantations.
It was McCain who brought the subject up, after he and Obama had traded barbs about NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement:McCAIN: let me give you another example of a free trade agreement that Senator Obama opposes. Right now, because of previous agreements, some made by President Clinton, the goods and products that we send to Colombia, which is our largest agricultural importer of our products, is—there’s a billion dollars that we—our businesses have paid so far in order to get our goods in there.Obama then talked for several minutes about the need to strengthen the U.S. automobile industry and induce it to build fuel-efficient cars. But McCain still wanted to talk about Colombia. As soon as he got the floor back, he returned to his strange preoccupation:
Because of previous agreements, their goods and products come into our country for free. So Senator Obama, who has never traveled south of our border, opposes the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The same country that’s helping us try to stop the flow of drugs into our country that’s killing young Americans….
Free trade with Colombia is something that’s a no-brainer. But maybe you ought to travel down there and visit them and maybe you could understand it a lot better.
OBAMA: Let me respond. Actually, I understand it pretty well. The history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders have been targeted for assassination on a fairly consistent basis and there have not been prosecutions.
And what I have said, because the free trade—the trade agreement itself does have labor and environmental protections, but we have to stand for human rights and we have to make sure that violence isn’t being perpetrated against workers who are just trying to organize for their rights, which is why, for example, I supported the Peruvian Free Trade Agreement which was a well-structured agreement.
But I think that the important point is we’ve got to have a President who understands the benefits of free trade but also is going to enforce unfair trade agreements and is going to stand up to other countries.McCAIN: Well, let me just said that that this is—he—Senator Obama doesn’t want a free trade agreement with our best ally in the region but wants to sit down across the table without precondition to—with Hugo Chavez, the guy who has been helping FARC, the terrorist organization.As you may remember, this is not a new obsession for McCain. Puzzlingly, the first thing he did after he clinched the Republican nomination, at the beginning of July, was to get on a plane and go to…Colombia. That’s where he chose to spend the Glorious Fourth. Or maybe not so puzzlingly. In the second paragraph of the New York Times story previewing the trip, Larry Rohter wrote:
Free trade between ourselves and Colombia: I just recited to you the benefits of concluding that agreement, a billion dollars of American dollars that could have gone to creating jobs and businesses in the United States, opening up those markets.Since 1998, the lobbying firm headed until recently by Charlie Black, one of Mr. McCain’s closest confidants, has earned more than $1.8 million representing the Occidental Petroleum Corporation, the leading foreign producer of gas and oil in Colombia. The lobbying firm, BKSH & Associates, has also represented Colombian textile and apparel manufacturers and a former foreign minister and presidential candidate who is also a prominent businesswoman.The Times went on to note that human rights groups have accused Occidental of complicity in the killing of peasants and labor leaders believed (erroneously, in the case of the labor leaders) to be affiliated with guerrilla groups.
The week before McCain left for Colombia, Carl H. Linder, Jr., who made billions as the C.E.O. of Chiquita Brands International, hosted a fundraiser for McCain at his home in Cincinnati, Ohio. It raised $2 million—a lot of money, though not much compared to the $25 million fine Chiquita paid for paying, under Linder’s leadership, more millions to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a bloodthirsty paramilitary group which the State Department officially classified as a terrorist organization. But, as Nico Pitney pointed out at the time in a well-documented report at the Huffington Post, Chiquita was an equal-opportunity terror funder in Colombia: it also made payments to leftist guerrilla groups, including the notorious FARC. Nothing to do with ideology, of course. Just a routine business expense.
Besides Black, at least four other McCain staffers or major fundraisers, including the campaign’s finance director and a former national finance chairman, have earned tidy sums lobbying for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
But John McCain is an honorable man. Therefore, it is inconceivable that any of these “associations,” to use one of his favorite words, had anything to do with the Republican nominee’s extraordinary solicitude for the Colombia trade pact, let alone the way he rolled his eyes when Obama spoke of the murder of Colombian labor leaders.