Monday, October 3, 2011

Colombia, Panama FTAs to be Sent to Congress This Week

It seems that the debate over the long-stalled free trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia and Panama is finally nearing an end. According to a senior administration official consulted by Reuters, the pending FTAs with Colombia, Panama and South Korea will be submitted either today or tomorrow to the U.S. Congress.

President Obama has been delaying sending the agreements to Capitol Hill in an effort to gather more Republican support for a reemployment and retraining program known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). With the Senate voting to extend the program on September 22nd, the pressure has mounted on the House to pass it as well.  

House Speaker John Boehner has reportedly said that he would consider the program in tandem with the agreements once they are submitted, and predicted that the FTAs would be ready for Obama’s signature in mid-October. As Chamber of Commerce Vice President John Murphy told Bloomberg Business Week, there is a significant push in the administration to approve the FTAs in time for an October 13th visit to Washington by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak.

In Colombia, where the debate over the U.S. FTA has become especially based on the country’s human rights progress, a new study by Human Rights Watch offers some alarming findings. According to the new study, there has been "virtually no progress" in the investigations into the deaths of labor organizers and activists that have occurred there in the past four and a half years. Of the 195 prosecutions that have begun since January 2007, only six convictions have been obtained.

Unfortunately this is not likely to dissuade the White House, which has ignored similar criticisms in the past and maintained that Colombia has made significant progress in addressing anti-union violence.

News Briefs
  • In other Colombia news, El Tiempo reports that former paramilitary leader Norberto Quiroga was arrested for his suspected involvement in several forced disappearances upon returning to Colombia after having been extradited and tried in the U.S. on drug charges. Quiroga’s arrest is a rare occurrence in Colombia, where, according to the paper, “at least a dozen” extradited paramilitaries have been returned to the country. In most cases, the individuals are set free.
  • In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has denied a recent Miami Herald report that cited anonymous sources saying he had been hospitalized and was in serious condition. To prove his point, he threw a softball around with his foreign minister outside the presidential palace, demonstrating that he was apparently healthy.
  • With the rumors of Chavez’s health quickly losing credibility, the Venezuelan opposition Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD) seems to be taking Chavez more seriously. Last week the historically fractured group signed a pact agreeing to back a single candidate in next October’s presidential race.  As an excellent analysis by the America Society’s Carin Zissis points out, rampant infighting within the MUD has made it its own worst enemy in past elections, so the pact comes as a significant boost to their chances of beating Chavez.
  • Meanwhile, two months before Nicaragua heads to the polls, a CID-Gallup survey shows President Daniel Ortega with the support of 46 percent of Nicaraguans. Barring a major scandal, it is likely that he will win the 40 percent threshold needed to win the presidency in the first round of office. His nearest rival, Fabio Gadea of the Partido Liberal Independiente (PLI) is in a distant second place, with only 34% support.
  • It seems that rival Mexican lefties Marcelo Luis Ebrard and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador may be on the verge of putting aside their political rivalries for the interest of their party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).  As El Universal reports, Ebrard has proposed that the loser of the PRD’s primary stand behind the winner, because to do otherwise would risk fracturing the Mexican left.
  • With President Obama now deporting record numbers of undocumented immigrants, the individuals who continue to risk the perilous border crossing are seasoned experts who have crossed multiple times, frequently because they have families in the U.S. According to a new report by the New York Times, 56 percent of arrests at the Mexican border in 2010 involved people who had been caught previously, up from 44 percent in 2005.
  • The U.S.’s immigration policy is also the subject of the latest WOLA Podcast. In it, Adam Isaacon and Vicki Glass speak with Senior Chuck Barrett, a consultant for Catholic Relief Services who advocates for the rights of Mexican guest workers.
  • Despite Bolivian President Evo Morales’ promise to hold a local referendum on the government’s plans to build a highway through an Amazonian reserve in the south, hundreds of indigenous activists took to the streets on Saturday to protest the proposal in the small town of Quiquibey. According to the AP, the protestors have formed a caravan with the goal of marching on the capital city of La Paz, and are expected to arrive sometime in mid-October.