The editorial-writers at the Washington Post are usually a politically moderate bunch, but when the topic is Latin America they move to the right of Attila the Hun. Worse, they get sloppy, embarrassing themselves with ad hominem attacks and “straw man” arguments.
These pieces do a lot of damage, though, because they are widely read among Washington decisionmakers who, by and large, also pay little attention to Latin America.
We have two examples from the past three days.
On Wednesday, they had this to say about “Plan Mexico,” the supplemental aid request that the Bush administration sent to Congress last month.
Almost all of the funds would cover the cost of training police or supplying planes, helicopters, detection equipment for use by customs and communications gear. Mexican officials say that none of the U.S. aid would be in cash and that no new U.S. personnel would be deployed in Mexico.
The package nevertheless will probably become a target for leftists in Mexico and the United States who reflexively oppose any military or security collaboration between the two countries.
As we have pointed out, military and police aid do not make up “almost all” of the funds in the Mexico aid request. (This is what we mean by sloppy.) Such aid is just over half of the dollar amount, and nearly all of that amount is taken up by eight helicopters and two planes. Much of what is in the package – port scanning equipment, judicial strengthening assistance – makes perfect sense.
We know a lot of people whom the Post editorialists would consider to be “leftists,” and very few of them have any problem with a U.S.-Mexican partnership against organized crime. Of course we should have a discussion about whether the Mexican Army is the best tool for the job, about the missing U.S. response on drug treatment, money-laundering and cross-border gun control, and about whether some of the money going to those expensive helicopters might be put to better use on other priorities. Those who “reflexively” support the proposed aid package should be prepared to participate in this more nuanced discussion.
Today (Friday), the Post launched a spirited defense of the Colombia free trade agreement, repeating many of the talking points coming out of the Colombian government’s lobby firms (the murder rate of labor unionists is lower than the overall murder rate, et cetera). While CIP has not been a major participant in the free-trade debate, we found the first sentence cited here to be repugnant and offensive.
To make them wait indefinitely while Colombian authorities go through cold-case files would be to substitute some Americans’ priorities for those of the Colombian voters who reelected Mr. Uribe last year with over 60 percent of the vote. The United States should not write Mr. Uribe a blank check, but the appropriate means of pressuring him already exist in human rights conditions Congress has attached to Colombia’s military aid packages.
What the Post dismissively, repellently, calls “cold-case files” are the whole point. When the trail goes cold on nearly 99 percent of union-member killings, then we have no guarantee that the recent decline in these killings is going to last. If such killings are virtually certain to go unpunished, they can resume at any time.
One can even argue that a country that doesn’t punish union-member killings has an unfair competitive advantage over a country that does punish such killings. Wages and benefits will always be worse in a country where to bargain collectively is to risk being killed with impunity. Progress on punishing labor cases should be a sine qua non condition for U.S. ratification of the FTA.
Or could it be that the Washington Post editorialists have happened upon a magic formula for conflict resolution? Why don’t the Arabs and Israelis, the Albanians and Serbs, the Cubans in Miami and Havana just forget about those “cold case files” from the past, the same way that the Post expects thousands of slain unionists’ family members and former colleagues to move on?
And why don’t those victims and their U.S. advocates get out of the way of the more than 60 percent of Colombians who voted for Uribe? Does the Post editorial board believe the same logic applies to regime opponents in Venezuela (62 percent for ChÃ¡vez in December 2006) and Bolivia (53 percent for Morales in December 2005)?
As for the human-rights conditions on U.S. aid, which the Washington Post editorial regards to be an “appropriate means of pressure”? A Post editorial in May criticized those conditions’ principal congressional proponent, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), for “reflexively resist[ing] U.S. military aid to Latin America.”
“Reflexively” – there’s that word again. And it’s an appropriate one. Where Latin America policy is concerned, the Post editorial-writers’ reflex is to defend the status quo, no matter how unsatisfactory it may be. The search for a better policy would be better served by reason and reflection, not reflexes.