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Monday, June 30, 2008

"McCain's Visit is Ill-Advised"

Don Pedro has a question:

Why is McCain Going to Colombia?, Economists for Obama: I just learned that McCain is going to Mexico and Colombia next week. Mexico, OK, but Colombia? Presumably, the idea is for him to highlight his support for the stalled U.S.-Colombia trade agreement. But do his advisers realize that Colombia is embroiled in a political crisis?

Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe--the torch bearer for the trade agreement--was only able to run for the second term he's now serving because the Colombian legislature amended the constitution to permit re-election. The constitutional amendment passed by just one vote. Last week, the Colombian Supreme Court sentenced a former congresswoman for accepting favors in exchange for her vote. With that ruling, the Court questioned the legitimacy of Uribe's re-election, and asked the separate Constitutional Court to determine the validity of the amendment.

Uribe's response was to call for the 2006 election to be held again and to ask a congressional committee to investigate the Supreme Court. The idea of a new election might be reasonable if the 2006 election results were in question, but it's not. What's at issue is whether Uribe should have been a candidate at all in 2006. Uribe knows that he would easily win a new vote, because his popularity has skyrocketed due to his government's successes in the fight against the FARC guerrilla group.

Uribe's reaction is what you would expect from a populist dictator,--someone like Uribe's nemesis, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez--and there have been calls for him to resign. In light of his popularity, Uribe will undoubtedly stay, but Colombia's political institutions will be increasingly frayed, and Uribe's image abroad will suffer. In particular, I think there's now little chance the U.S. Congress will approve the trade accord while Uribe is in office, regardless of whether McCain or Obama wins, since Uribe's authoritarian moves have given opponents of the agreement a whole new argument against it.

Which is all to say that McCain's visit is ill-advised. I'm sure he'll be asked repeatedly for his take on the crisis, and there's no right answer to that question. If he says he supports Uribe, he's backing an emerging dictator. And if he criticizes Uribe, he'll have to explain why he still supports signing the trade accord, despite Uribe's anti-democratic behavior. All of this makes me think the McCain people who scheduled this trip aren't the brightest crayons in the box. Recall that these are largely the people who weren't good enough to get jobs in the Bush administration.

Meanwhile, Obama's chief adviser for Latin America, Dan Restrepo (who is Colombian American) recently gave an interview (in Spanish) with Colombia's leading newsweekly. When asked if Obama would accept Uribe's invitation to visit Colombia during the campaign, he replied that Obama has said he's thought about visiting Latin America during the campaign, but that it's not easy. I think it is extremely unlikely that before the election Obama would follow McCain's lead and walk into the political minefield of a visit to Colombia. [Update: An answer]

    Posted by on Monday, June 30, 2008 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (12)

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