From Colombian Embassy lobbying materials being distributed this week (PDF).
We’re hearing reports from Capitol Hill that an enormous delegation of Colombians has descended on them.
Led by Colombian Trade Minister Luis Guillermo Plata and funded (or at least mostly funded) by the Colombian government, at least eighty government officials, businesspeople, pro-trade labor unionists, former combatants and others have fanned out across the U.S. Congress this week. Divided into eight separate groups, each with a different agenda of legislative lobby visits, their goal is to sell the controversial U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
The FTA’s ratification has been stalled since April, when House Democratic leaders responded to the Bush administration’s effort to force a debate by removing the strict timetable, known as “fast track,” in the rules governing congressional consideration of trade treaties.
The Colombian visitors hope to nudge the U.S. Congress into considering the FTA before the 110th Congress adjourns at the end of the year. That is unlikely to happen. Congress will recess on September 26 – two-and-a-half weeks from now – so that members can return to their home states and campaign for the November 4 elections. It is not clear whether they will come back between the elections and the early January inauguration of the 111th Congress, a period punctuated by the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays known as a “lame duck session.”
There may not be a lame duck session this year, Reuters, repeating what we have also been hearing, reported yesterday: “Democratic leaders in Congress say their plan is to finish up whatever work there is to do in the next several weeks and not return until early 2009, when a newly elected president and lawmakers will take office.”
The Colombian government has nonetheless pulled out all the stops. Just consider the expenses incurred for the current lobby visit.
Assume a four-day stay in Washington for 80 people. We have hosted enough visitors from Latin America over the years to know that a visit to Washington is not cheap. These are very conservative estimates:
- Airfare, visa fees, aiport taxes – assume $900 per person. (More if the visitor didn’t fly coach, or had to fly first from a Colombian city without an international airport.)
- Hotels, four nights – assume $1,000 per person. (Go to hotels.com and try to find a room in downtown DC for less than $250, including taxes, this time of year.)
- Food and ground transportation, four days – assume $200 per person.
That brings us to $2,100 per person, or $168,000 for this week’s lobby visit. The real figure is likely higher, but even this is about 50% higher than CIP’s expenditures on all Colombia-specific work this year. On the other hand, it is equal only to what the U.S. government provides to Colombia’s police and military every 3 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, President Ãlvaro Uribe will be passing through Washington next week, while visiting the United States to attend the UN General Assembly. The blitz continues.