No Comment — May 8, 2007, 11:16 am

Colombia, Political Hackery, and the Washington Post

On Sunday, under the heading “Assault on an Ally,” the Washington Post published an extraordinary editorial assailing Patrick Leahy, Nancy Pelosi, and other Democratic leaders. It appears the Democrats were guilty of expressing concern about human rights abuses in Colombia–the epicenter of blood-spilling and carnage in the Western Hemisphere–and their attempts to link a free-trade agreement with Colombia to a clear undertaking by the Colombian government to address its human rights problems. I oppose the linkage of human rights concerns to a free-trade deal, but I fully embrace the human rights concerns which have been raised. They are not just legitimate, but vital and reflect a rare principled stance on a momentous issue. The Post’s back-handed dismissal of these concerns is unconscionable.

The editorial appears only a short period following a meeting between Colombian president Álvaro Uribe and the editorial board at the Post. And a source within the Post tells me that the editorial that resulted is virtually identical to the talking points that Álvaro Uribe presented to the Post editors, which reflects the serious research effort they put into the piece. Indeed, those talking points are essentially the same that he delivered to a dinner hosted by Florida Republican Mel Martinez and Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar, which were reported in some detail by the McClatchy Newspapers.

A project in Cartagená first brought me into contact with Colombia and its problems. There are few places on earth where a deeply entrenched culture of violence has left such devastation. In large parts of the country normal life is all but impossible. An environment has arisen in which narcotics traffickers and political revolutionaries (and these two categories are hardly mutually exclusive) run rampant.

Álvaro Uribe is not a nasty dictator oblivious to the fate of his people and his country. He has taken some decisive steps to address the spread of violence, and most Colombians repose confidence in him to salvage them in their current dilemma. On the other hand, Uribe has a very worrisome track record of dealing with violent militias–essentially turning a blind eye to them, or even tolerating collaboration between them and state police and military forces. This stretches back to his term of governor of Antioquia state in the nineties. This record has improved somewhat, but the problems seem to continue and his resolve to confront them is subject to serious question.

Colombia is an ally, as the Post notes, and this alliance comes with a foreign assistance bonus of $5 billion since Bush became president. This is reason enough for the Congressional leadership to ask questions about Plan Colombia, and to express concerns about the continuing high level of political violence in the country and the earnestness and effectiveness of Álvaro Uribe’s measures to combat the paramilitary militias. To this day, according to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, paramilitary groups commit between 800 and 900 selective killings per year–a number which has been constant since Álvaro Uribe came to power. Of the various human rights organizations engaged on this issue, only one–Human Rights Watch–should be singled out for the excellence of its work and the penetrating depth of its advocacy. Álvaro Uribe’s attacks on Human Rights Watch and his attempts to dismiss life-and-death issues of this sort as partisan politics are tactics unworthy of a democratic leader.

But indeed, even the pro-Álvaro Uribe press in Colombia is not so dense as the Post. It has broadly recognized that the concerns raised in the United States reflect legitimate concerns and arise from friendship, not hostility towards Colombia. In the words of El Espectador, support for Plan Colombia from the Democratic corner always reflected “political pragmatism,” not conviction, as human rights groups always raised legitimate worry about the efficacy of the military and security aid components of the plan. Yet, the Post would have us believe that by raising concerns about the blood that continues to flow in the streets of Colombia, the Democrats (and indeed not a few Republicans) are engaged in partisan politics–waging a proxy attack on President Bush.

But doesn’t this shoe fit perfectly on another foot? In its unthinking acceptance of the criticism offered by Álvaro Uribe, the Post is a demonstrating not journalism, but political hackery.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

December 2014

Poison Apples

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Growing Up

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Gateway to Freedom

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Guns and Poses

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Christmas in Prison

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Sarah Topol follows the trade routes used by arms smugglers, Eric Foner explores the hidden history of the Underground Railroad, Karl Ove Knausgaard recounts a humiliating episode from grade school, and more
Photograph by Angela Strassheim
Article
Growing Up·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The best coming-of-age stories have a hole in the middle. They pretend to be about knowledge, but they are usually about grasping, long after it could be of any use, one’s irretrievable ignorance.”
Photograph by Ben Pier
Article
Guns and Poses·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“‘It’s open shopping,’ he said. ‘A warehouse. The whole of Libya.’”
Map by Mike Reagan
Article
Gateway to Freedom·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The Vigilance Committee survived until the eve of the Civil War, and over the course of its several incarnations it propelled the plight of fugitives to the forefront of abolitionist consciousness.“
Photograph by Amani Willett
Article
Christmas in Prison·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just so you motherfuckers know, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family, eating a good meal, and you’ll all be here, right where you belong.”
Photographer unknown. Artwork courtesy Alyse Emdur

Amount that President Obama has added to America’s “brand value” according to the Nation Brands Index:

$2,100,000,000,000

A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.

A former New York City police officer who had been arrested in 2012 for exchanging online messages about cooking women alive and eating them, and for illegally accessing data about potential victims in law-enforcement databases, was sentenced to time served.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today