August 24, 2006
Export-oriented enterprises in Colombia are getting very worried that the free trade agreement with the United States will not be renewed by the end of the year, in which case many of them might go out of business. What would the laid-off workers do? Take jobs with coca-processors or narcotraffickers, of course.* The problem is that the Bush administration is reluctant to put the matter before Congress in the middle of an electoral campaign in which control of the legislative branch hangs in the balance. See CNN.com. President Uribe is without question the strongest U.S. ally in all of Latin America, and what is more, he won reelection earlier this year by a large majority. In other words, no one can call him a puppet or lackey. The people of Colombia see the ugly face of terrorism up close, like the people who live or work in lower Manhattan. They are on our side in this struggle, and it would be stupid to let them down. It is time for President Bush to put short-term political considerations aside, and lay it on the line to the American people: Free trade with friendly countries in Latin America is a matter of vital national interest to the United States.
* An excellent movie that dramatizes precisely this excruciating personal dilemma is Maria, Full of Grace. It's about a young Colombian woman who is laid off, needs money to support a child, and tries to get rich quick by smuggling condoms full of cocaine to the United States. It is a gruesome and very hard-hitting portrayal of life in that part of Latin America. See the Internet Movie Database.
Virginia Sen. George Allen sparked an uproar last week about the obscure foreign slang term "macaca," and thanks to Chris Green, I've learned that it is also the name of a soccer team in Brazil. They even have their own blog: Blog de Macaca! By way of explanation in English, according to answers.com,
The club's mascot is a female monkey (Macaca) wearing Ponte Preta's home kit. The mascot reflects racism against the club (one of the first Brazilian teams to accept blacks, having been even refused participation in championships due to this). Just as Palmeiras fans, the supporters adopted the mascot instead of taking offence from it.
This also reflects the more light-hearted way racial differences are treated in Latin America compared to the United States. Overtly racist fat-lipped caricatures of black people are still common in most of the region, and Mexico created a controversy last year when it released postage stamps showing such cartoon characters. Rev. Jesse Jackson demanded an apology from President Fox, who demurred.