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Tuesday, July 29 2014 @ 02:48 PM EDT

Rice presses Congress to OK Latin American trade pacts

Money Matters
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
By David J. Lynch, USA TODAY WASHINGTON — The Bush administration ramped up efforts to win congressional approval of three pending trade agreements with Latin American nations Tuesday, deploying Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to argue that U.S. standing in the region depends upon implementing the pacts. The United States would gain economic and strategic benefits from the accords with Peru, Panama and Colombia, Rice said in a speech at the headquarters of the Organization of American States and in a subsequent roundtable with a handful of reporters. The three deals are being debated as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez promotes an anti-U.S. agenda heavy on nationalist economic policies, including control of resources such as oil, throughout the region. (more)

Editor's Comment: The Executive branch of the US government is doing everything they can to get the Free Trade Agreements pending with Panama, Colombia, and Peru passed by the US House of Representatives and Senate. As far as Colombia and Peru are concerned, I could care less. Good luck with that. As far as Panama is concerned, how in hell can the sitting US Secretary of State completely ignore that the President of the National Assembly in the Republic of Panama is wanted by the US Justice Department on an outstanding arrest warrant for the terrorist assassination of US Army Sergeant Zak Hernandez? In his position, Perdo Miguel Gonzalez presides over the single lawmaking body in the Republic of Panama, making him the equivalent of the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate, combined. In reality, the Republicans running the executive branch know that free trade agreements are political feathers in their caps for their base, and they are making a strategic political decision based on the idea that the votes they will gain by getting the free trade agreement passed will outweight (or outnumber) those that they will lose by choosing to ignore Pedro Miguel Gonzalez. Mistake. Big mistake.

Back Home at the VA Hospital: While there almost no chance that the issue of Pedro Miguel Gonzalez will become pertinent at the national level to the point where it could possibly impact the the next national election in 2008, the same can probably not be said back home on Main Street USA where US Congressmen spend their time campaigning. These public servants get to visit the widows, mothers, and orphans of US servicemen slain in Iraq or Afghanistan in the war against terrorism. They also get to visit wounded and disabled military veterans at service and VA hospitals who have been wounded in the war on terrorism. Did you notice the increased emphasis added on the word terrorism? That's there because Pedro Miguel Gonzalez was ahead of his time. He is accused, charged, and indicted for the terrorist assassination of a US military soldier who was serving the United States of America in the Republic of Panama, on duty, in uniform, and completely within the law. He was gunned down while in the line of duty simply because George H. W. Bush was going to visit Panama in 1992 on his first trip here after the Just Cause invasion in 1989 which ousted Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Zak Hernandez was targeted not for a personal reason, not for robbery, but simply because he as a US soldier in uniform. Any US soldier in uniform would have served the purpose equally well. That, my friends, is the definition of terrorism.

How In The Name Of Hell? Does anyone in the current Executive Branch of the US Government, to include Condoleezza Rice, have a pair of balls between them? At what point does the Executive Branch come to the realization that the bilateral Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Panama should be put on hold until the "problem" of Pedro Miguel Gonzalez resolves itself, one way or the other. His election as the President of the National Assembly here goes way beyond a "diplomatic snub." It can only be seen as a brazen flaunting of nationalistic extremism in a country totally lacking in judicial credibility, especially in relation to themes of influence peddling and corruption. There is a widespread belief, inside of Panama as well as in the United States, that the "trial" of Pedro Miguel Gonzalez was little more than a show and that the results were predetermined by powerful local politicians of the ruling Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD) political party before the trial ever began. You have to understand that Pedro Miguel Gonzalez's father was a founding member of the PRD and was appointed as the first Secretary General of the party created by military dictator Omar Torrijos, the father of Panama's sitting President Martin Torrijos.

"Screw that..." I hope and pray that the operatives of the Executive Branch are saying one thing in public for general consumption, and then saying something completely different in the back hallways of congress and on cell phone conversations to their counterparts on the hill. I want to loudly and clearly applaud Senator Max Baucus, the Chairman of the Finance Committee of the US Senate, as well as the Honorable Representative Congressman Congressman Charles B. Rangel, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. These two men have stated, clearly and unequivocally, that the bilateral Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Panama will not be proceeding out of their respective committees until the "problem" of Pedro Miguel Gonzalez is resolved in Panama, by Panamanians, one way of the other. Good for them. They get the "Balls of Steel" award for 2007. Christ, think about this - if Condoleezza Rice doesn't have a pair of balls, then who does? We're all screwed.

Nobody Knows About Pedro: The current line of thought is that Pedro Miguel Gonzalez is a "little" issue which should not take on more importance than the free trade agreement. Yup, he is just one guy, as is Osama Bin Laden, Hitler, and Hugo Chavez. Trust me - and I say this with complete and total clarity and conviction - if (for some unforeseen and goofy reason) the Panama Free Trade Agreement comes up for a vote in Congress, I will drop everything else and go on a campaign to make sure that Pedro Miguel Gonzalez is on the front page of every newspaper in America. I will make it personally make sure that every constituent of every Senator or US Congressmen who is about to vote on that bill will know all about Pedro Miguel Gonzalez. Maybe not many people know about Pedro Miguel Gonzalez right now - it is a relatively esoteric nip of obscure international politics for the generally tuned-out trailer park crowd. But the issue is also something easy to grasp once you take 30 seconds to consider the details, and completely "sticky" as a topic once you get some on you. In other words, Pedro Miguel Gonzalez has the blood of Zak Hernandez on his hands. Now, do you want some on yours? That's my plan. Never underestimate the power of email and pissed-off bloggers.

(Article Continues)

Prospects for passage of the Peru deal this month look good. The Panama accord also is expected to pass. But Colombia, with a history of armed conflict and human rights violations, has emerged as the most controversial deal.

In recent weeks, the administration has argued that Colombia has made great progress reducing violence. But the AFL-CIO opposes the trade measure, as do Democratic leaders in the House, saying Colombia has done too little to prosecute those responsible for the killings of almost 400 trade unionists in the past five years.

While insisting that the deal should be approved quickly, Rice acknowledged that the administration is considering endorsing additional steps to facilitate passage by boosting Colombia's justice system.

"We've had some discussions with the Colombian government about what might be done to enhance Colombia's capability to bring people accused of crimes to justice," she told reporters.

But she rejected the idea of delaying approval until Colombia met unspecified benchmarks demonstrating additional progress: "I don't know at this particular stage how much more evidence you need. … Why would you wait?"

Rice spoke a day after Costa Rican voters approved by a 51.6% to 48.4% margin a similar trade deal with the U.S. The narrow win was the latest sign of waning global enthusiasm for additional trade integration. Efforts to reach a new global trade agreement likewise are foundering, and there is mounting public unease in the USA over trade approaching the 2008 election.

The USA's top diplomat also pushed back against the notion that trade integration is losing favor, saying: "I'm concerned there's a sense somehow America feels fearful of its ability to compete."

Agreement in May between congressional Democrats and the White House to include new labor and environmental protections in future trade deals, including the three Latin accords, "probably helped" address public worries, Rice said.

Echoing previous administration warnings, Rice inveighed against efforts to restrict foreign trade. "Impulses to protect always lead to bad outcomes," she said.

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