Interview | 1/16/2009 12:00:00 AM
“Colombia will continue to be a valued partner of the US”: Steny Hoyer
Congressman Steny Hoyer, the leader of the Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives, explained to SEMANA why the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia is hindered in the US Congress and what both countries might expect with the new government.
Hoyer works closely with Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, who last year postponed the voting on the FTA with the argument that the Republican president George W. Bush hadn’t reached an agreement with her.
SEMANA: The Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Colombia did not come to the floor of the U.S. Congress this year, despite the fact that it was signed two years ago by President Bush and President Uribe, and had the support of many members of Congress from both parties. Why?
Steny Hoyer: The Bush Administration failed to adequately consult Congress, as is both required by law and customary for the consideration of any trade agreement. While Congress temporarily delayed consideration of the trade agreement, the Bush Administration did not work to bring both parties together to reach a resolution. Ambassador Carolina Barco worked tirelessly to build consensus and move the process forward.
SEMANA: Do you agree with the statement by House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel that the reason lies with "the politics in the air" and not with "the facts on the ground"? What were these domestic political issues that stood in the way of a vote?
Steny Hoyer: Unfortunately, the economic benefits of trade are often times less visible than the local manufacturing plant that has closed its doors. This has led many to believe that trade is not in our national interest.
SEMANA: Colombia’s Government argues that it has made tremendous strides in improving overall violence, and has dedicated significant resources to combating violence against union leaders in particular. Yet there is a repeated call by Democrats for the Uribe government to "do more". What more, in your opinion, needs to be done?
Steny Hoyer: Colombia has made significant progress in reducing violence, and we are encouraged by the commitment of the Uribe government to continue these efforts.
SEMANA: In a statement issued in June of 2007, you, along with the members of the democratic leadership, expressed that you were not able to support an FTA with Colombia until there was "sustained evidence of concrete results on the ground" with regards to violence against union leaders, human rights and impunity. What would you say today about an FTA with Colombia?
Steny Hoyer: The reduction in violence is clearly a positive step, and I continue to believe that a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement would be beneficial to both nations.
SEMANA: There is great concern in Colombia that under the new Obama administration, and with growing Democratic majorities in the U.S. Congress, there will be little or no inclination to vote on a trade agreement, especially one that has received opposition from labor. Do you see a vote on the U.S.-Colombia FTA coming to the floor anytime soon?
Steny Hoyer: President-elect Obama said throughout his campaign that he will be committed to reengaging the international community. I believe trade should be a part of that effort, and as Majority Leader, I look forward to discussing a way forward with the Obama Administration.
SEMANA: Do you think that the Colombian Government should have done something differently in its effort to pass the FTA?
Steny Hoyer: No, unfortunately the Free Trade Agreement was held up on account of the Bush Administration’s reluctance to engage Congress as a co-equal branch of government when discussing the agreement. Ambassador Carolina Barco did everything possible to promote passage of the trade agreement.
SEMANA: Many Democrats, including President-elect Obama and the designated Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, have talked about a "moratorium" on trade agreements. Do you believe that this is a widespread preference among your party? Do you think that the agreements with Colombia and Panama, which already include labor and environmental provisions agreed upon by the Democratic Leadership, need to be negotiated again?
Steny Hoyer: The Democratic Party is proud of the diversity of our members, who have a wide range of views on a number of different issues. Our work led to the inclusion of critical labor and environmental provisions, which must be a key part of any trade agreement. I look forward to discussing these and other provisions in this and other trade agreements that I believe should move forward.
SEMANA: Do you think that the approval of the FTA will be against the creation of jobs in the U.S., or quite the opposite?
Steny Hoyer: The FTA will have a positive net effect on the U.S. economy. In fact, as we confront the current economic crisis, exports is one of the few sectors of our economy that is continuing to grow.
SEMANA: Do you think President-elect Barack Obama and the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, will support the FTA with Colombia next year?
Steny Hoyer: I look forward to discussing the FTA with both President-elect Obama and Speaker Pelosi next year.
SEMANA: Colombia is one of the first four largest recipient of U.S. assistance in the world, after Iraq, Israel and Egypt. Much of this assistance has centered around Plan Colombia, created under the Clinton Administration to combat drug trafficking. Recent reports about coca cultivation areas, however, show increases in total cultivation and few concrete results in the fight against drugs. Do you believe that Plan Colombia is succeeding? Do you foresee a change in the amount and allocation of these funds in the next year?
Steny Hoyer: Colombia is a valued partner to the United States on many different issues, including the fight against drugs, and will continue to be so in the years to come.
SEMANA: Don’t you think that rejecting the FTA or postponing a vote in the U.S. Congress will send a signal to Colombia ant the rest of the world that the U.S. dos not keep its word with its allies? The agreement was signed in November, 2006.
Steny Hoyer: The U.S. is committed to our allies around the world and does not go back on its word. The Bush Administration signed the trade agreement, not Congress. Unfortunately the Bush Administration chose not to follow standard protocol when submitting a trade agreement to Congress.
SEMANA: Finally, and regarding the pending vote of the FTA in U.S. Congress, do you really think that the United States are being fair with a country that fights the drug traffickers (and suffers the terrible consequences), whose illegal product (cocaine) is being used mainly inside the U.S.?
Steny Hoyer: Colombia is an important ally in the fight against drugs, and we are appreciative of its work to reduce the flow of illegal drugs.
SEMANA: Do you have trust in President Alvaro Uribe? What would you say if the Colombian Congress modifies the Constitution so that Mr. Uribe could be reelected for a third term?
Steny Hoyer: President Uribe has been a great partner and a real ally to the United States, and I look forward to continuing to work with him on the issues that are important to both our nations.