Reuters : Canada steps into the void left by U.S.-Columbia rift
"Canada started trade talks with Colombia on Monday and pledged full support for President Alvaro Uribe, who has seen his key bilateral relationship with the United States bog down in a scandal over human rights.
In a thinly veiled slap at U.S. congressional Democrats who oppose a trade deal with Colombia due to rights concerns, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper used a trip to Bogota to present himself as a steadier ally.
"We are not going to say fix all your social, political and human rights problems and only then will we engage in trade relations with you. That's a ridiculous position," Harper said in a media conference with Uribe at his side."
This "ridiculous position" is in sharp contrast to Harper's earlier celebrated stand on "not trading human rights for the almighty dollar".
But that was about China. Uribe, however, is a rightwing Conservative.
"Uribe's international standing has been damaged by a scandal in which some of his closest political allies are in jail awaiting trial for helping paramilitary death squads.Globe&Mail : "It's an exploratory trip to what might be called "Mister Harper's new neighbourhood."
But Harper, in the first state visit by a Canadian leader to Colombia, backed Uribe's efforts at ending the country's decades-old guerrilla war and fostering economic growth.
"When we see a country like Colombia that has decided to address its social, political and economic problems in an integrated way, that wants to embrace democracy and human rights, then we say, 'We're in,' he said."
"We're doing it because we believe it's our neighbourhood," a senior Canadian official said yesterday, echoing Mr. Harper's statement last month at the G8.
Michael Shifter, policy vice-president at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank, who recently visited Ottawa :
"What Canada can offer is that it's close to the United States but is not the United States," he said. "The United States has so much baggage in Latin America, but Canada escapes that. This is a hemisphere where there is a lot of mistrust and a lot of disarray, and the U.S. is very handicapped to do anything about it."
But that's ok, because Harper is more than willing to carry that baggage for them :
Reuters : "Colombia has received billions of dollars in U.S. aid to crack down on the cocaine trade.
Democrats in control of the U.S. Congress are toughening conditions on that aid and oppose a trade pact due in part to the fact that the Andean country leads the world in labor murders.
Uribe's former state security chief is accused of providing a death list of trade union leaders to paramilitary hit men."
72 union leaders assassinated so far in fact.
But hey, let's not get "ridiculous" here - "We're in!". Yeah Canada!
Yes, that's us - a loyal ally and US baggage carrier, stepping into the void ...
Reuters : Harper's visit comes as many Colombians feel betrayed by the United States for not backing the trade pact.
"This gives Canada an opportunity to come in and assure Colombia that it is a loyal ally," said Michael Shifter of Washington-based think-tank Inter-American Dialogue."