Rick Santorum, a Republican Party presidential contender, accused Barack Obama of pursuing “a consistent policy of siding with the leftists, siding with the Marxists” in Latin America.
The former Pennsylvania senator, who appears to have little chance of securing the Republican nomination to challenge the incumbent in November’s election, participated in a televised debate sponsored by CNN in Jacksonville, Florida on Thursday night. Conservatives in the southeastern state vote in a primary on Tuesday to elect a presidential candidate.
Santorum referenced Colombia in particular which “is out there on the frontlines working with us against the narco-terrorists, standing up to Chávez in South America and what did we do?” he asked.
For domestic political purposes, the president of the United States sided with organized labor and the environmental groups and held Colombia out to dry for three years.
Colombia successfully crushed the drug and FARC insurgency with military and financial support from the United States.
A free-trade agreement between the two countries, which the government in Bogotá ratified in 2007, was held up for nearly three years by the Obama Administration over union concerns about the safety of labor leaders in Latin America — even if the murder rate among union members has steeply declined in recent years. A unionized laborer in Colombia today is one sixth as likely to be a victim of homicide as a fellow citizen who does not belong to a trade union.
Colombia accounts for just 1 percent of America’s trade volume but 40 percent of Colombian exports are to the United States. A third of the products it imports are American.
The country sells mainly coal, coffee, cut flowers and petroleum. As the security situation has stabilized, the Colombian economy is performing strongly. 4.3 percent growth is expected this year.
Despite a longstanding economic and military relationship with the United States, Colombia’s second largest trading partner is neighboring Venezuela where the president, Hugo Chávez, works to build an anti-American league in the region.
Bogotá suspects Venezuela of supporting the left-wing revolutionaries of the FARC but seeks to normalize relations with the Chávez regime nonetheless. Conservatives in the United States blame President Obama’s three years of inaction on the Colombian free-trade agreement for this apparent alienation. “We cannot do that to our friends in South America,” was how Santorum put it Thursday night.
He also rejected calls to normalize relations with Cuba which he described as “the heart of the cancer that is in Central and South America.” He alleged that the president intended to reward a behavior of thuggery. “This is the exact wrong message at the exact wrong time.”
Texas congressman Ron Paul, who advocates a noninterventionist foreign policy, challenged Santorum’s call for a more activist American presence across the Western Hemisphere. “You’re talking about force,” he said. “The Cold War is over. They’re not going to invade us.”
I don’t think the nations in South America and Central America necessarily want us to come down there and dictate what government they should have.
Rather he championed freer trade before pointing out that economic sanctions, well intended as he said they may be, “almost inevitably backfire and help the dictators and hurt the people.”
During the Cold War, the United States regularly intervened in the political affairs of Latin American nations to prevent leftist regimes from coming to power there. Santorum said he didn’t necessarily favor military intervention but suggested that an economic union should be erected across the Americas.