WSJ terror-baits free trade opponent

Even we are frankly astonished by the depth of cynicism to which the Wall Street Journal has sunk this time. A March 25 editorial, entitled “A FARC Fan’s Notes,” touts (dubious) claims that the computer recovered from Colombia’s (illegal) March 1 raid on a FARC guerilla camp in Ecuadoran territory contained communication to rebel leaders from a “go-between” linked to Rep. James McGovern. The respectfully diplomatic rhetoric of the communication is de rigeur for the obvious intent behind the missives—getting hostages freed. Yet the WSJ uses this to impugn McGovern’s opposition to the pending US-Colombia free trade agreement—as if there were no legitimate reasons to oppose it, and the Massachusetts Democrat can only be a dupe of the narco-terrorist conspiracy to bring down democracy in the Western Hemisphere. Here is the text of this exercise in disingenuous propaganda:

A hard drive recovered from the computer of a killed Colombian guerrilla has offered more insights into the opposition of House Democrats to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

A military strike three weeks ago killed Raúl Reyes, No. 2 in command of the FARC, Colombia’s most notorious terrorist group. The Reyes hard drive reveals an ardent effort to do business directly with the FARC by Congressman James McGovern (D., Mass.), a leading opponent of the free-trade deal. Mr. McGovern has been working with an American go-between, who has been offering the rebels help in undermining Colombia’s elected and popular government.

Mr. McGovern’s press office says the Congressman is merely working at the behest of families whose relatives are held as FARC kidnap hostages. However, his go-between’s letters reveal more than routine intervention. The intervenor with the FARC is James C. Jones, who the Congressman’s office says is a “development expert and a former consultant to the United Nations.” Accounts of Mr. Jones’s exchanges with the FARC appeared in Colombia’s Semana magazine on March 15. This Mr. Jones should not be confused with the former Congressman and ambassador to Mexico of the same name from Oklahoma.

“Receive my warm greetings, as always, from Washington,” Mr. Jones began in a letter to the rebels last fall. “The big news is that I spoke for several hours with the Democratic Congressman James McGovern. In the meeting we had the opportunity to exchange some ideas that will be, I believe, of interest to the FARC-EP [popular army].”

Mr. Jones added that “a fundamental problem is that the FARC does not have, strategically, a spokesman that can communicate directly with persons of influence in my country like Mr. McGovern.” Semana reports that in the documents Mr. Jones “rules himself out as the spokesman but offers himself as a ‘bridge’ of communication between the FARC and the congressman.” Semana says when it spoke with Mr. Jones, he verified the letter and explained that “he made the offer because the guerrillas need interlocutors if they want to achieve peace and that it is a mistake to isolate them.”

But communications among FARC rebels suggest the goal was to isolate Colombia’s government. A letter that Reyes wrote to top FARC commander Manuel Marulanda on October 26 reads: “According to [Jones’s] viewpoint, [President Álvaro] Uribe is increasingly discredited in the U.S. . . He believes that the safe haven [for the rebels] in the counties can be had for reasons mentioned. Congressional Democrats have invited him to Washington to talk about the Colombian crisis in which the principal theme is the swap.”

Semana reports that Mr. Jones made some proposals to the FARC, including a Caracas meeting with representatives of Venezuela, Colombia, the FARC, other South American countries, U.S. Congressmen and the Catholic Church. “It would be almost impossible for Uribe to reject such a meeting,” Mr. Jones wrote, “without burning himself a lot, nationally and internationally. If he persists in being against it, I have understood that there are ways to pressure him from my country [the U.S.].”

In a letter to Semana, Mr. Jones said his words were taken out of context. He says he is not in favor of the “violent methods of the guerrilla” or “the military solutions” of the government. He had only a professional relationship with the FARC and had to address them as he did because he had to build trust. Mr. McGovern’s office says it knew what Mr. Jones was doing and engaged with him because “we need to find an interlocutor who could discuss these things including the safe haven” for the guerrillas.

We think the documents reveal something else entirely: Some Democrats oppose the Colombia trade deal because they sympathize more with FARC’s terrorists than with a U.S. antiterror ally.

Of course one man’s “antiterror ally” is another’s serial human rights abuser, as a glance at Amnesty International‘s most recent year-end report on Colombia will make abundantly clear. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Sun-Chronicle (with a far smaller reach than the WSJ) offers some corrective reportage (online at the Colombia ex-pat blog PoorbutHappy):

McGovern clarifies contact with Colombia rebel group
U.S. Rep. James McGovern readily admits he has been in contact with a Colombian rebel group through third parties, but said his efforts have nothing to do with his opposition to a free trade agreement with the South American country.

The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial on Tuesday, criticized McGovern, linking his contacts with the group FARC – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – with his attempts to defeat the trade agreement favored by President Bush and the Colombian government.

McGovern, D-Worcester, said he has been talking to people who can get in touch with FARC, including a representative of the Colombia government, in an effort to negotiate the release of hostages, which include Americans.

McGovern said his efforts and those of other congressmen are well known to the Bush administration and the Colombian government and neither has objected.

His involvement in the situation started last year when relatives of the hostages asked him to try to secure their freedom, he said.

McGovern said he offered to negotiate with FARC, but his offer was never accepted.

He said he has been able to help secure evidence that the hostages are still alive.

The congressman said his interest is in helping “dozens and dozens” of hostages who are held in “horrible conditions” in the jungles of Colombia. Some of the hostages have been held for up to 10 years, he said.

McGovern said he has no affinity for FARC, which Colombia and the United States considers a terrorist group, but recognizes the only way to free the hostages is to talk to FARC leaders.

“Trying to get their release in no way, shape or form means I think the FARC is a good force. They’re awful. Everybody hates the FARC,” he said.

In the editorial, The Wall Street Journal notes that McGovern’s name was found in the computer files of a FARC official killed by Colombian forces.

The paper also noted that McGovern is opposed to the free trade agreement for Colombia, and links his opposition to his contacts with a go-between with FARC, although the editorial offered no proof of a connection.

“We think the documents reveal something else entirely: Some Democrats oppose the Colombian trade deal because they sympathize more with FARC’s terrorists than with a U.S. antiterror ally,” the paper stated.

McGovern said the claim of a link is false.

He said he opposes the trade agreement because Colombian’s government is one of the most anti-union governments in the world.

Union activists and human rights advocates are routinely abused and threatened, he said.

He said his opposition to the deal dates back several years, long before he got involved in the hostage negotiations.

Besides, he said, the trade agreement is between the governments of the United States and Colombia and FARC has no say in the issue.

“The Wall Street Journal editorial page is not known for its accuracy or being reasonable and rational,” he said.

See our last post on Colombia and the FARC.

  1. Not the first time for the WSJ about the FTA
    This is not the first time the WSJ has printed a totally ridiculous article in support of the FTA with Colombia. On March 10, page A14 they printed one basically stating that congress members against the FTA were helpers and supporters of Venezuelan President Chavez. The body of the article never really presented appropriate support for the conclusion.

    The FTA with Colombia in regards to what is good for the American worker and the American economy has nothing to do with Chavez or the FARC. We can compare this FTA with the one with Viet Nam. While indeed America increased imports over $1 billion to the country, Viet Nam increased exports $10 billion to the USA creating a significantly large increase in the trade deficit. In addition many US jobs went to that country.

    Colombia has approximately 55% of the population living below the poverty level. Minimum wage is $249 a month. Despite a recent decrease, the country still leads the world in deaths of union members. The Colombian government seems to have no desire to help the workers. Most of the murders of union members have been attributed to the government-linked paramilitary. There is less than a 10% arrest rate for murders of union members. Recent negotiations between business and union about increase in the minimum wage came to a stall, the government decided the increase would be only 1/10 of the difference between the two groups and an amount that got eaten up by inflation in the first two months. Another problem is massive corruption within the Colombian government as noted in the last two year’s US State Department reports on human rights in Colombia. It is that corruption that keeps many labor laws from being enforced.

    What is needed for a fair FTA is a country with a viable market for American goods. With the current conditions in Colombia, that market does not exist and there is a good chance that more American jobs will go there and the American economy will be hurt by a greater trade deficit. Owens Illinois has already closed their Godfrey plants putting many workers of a job while moving operations to Colombia. Waiting until Colombia shows significant progress to being a fair trading partner for the USA has nothing to do with the FARC, Chavez or if Colombia is a friend of the USA. It is only good business sense and one would believe that the Wall Street Journal could understand that. But the paper seems to be more involved now in playing politics.