Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Nancy Pelosi and the Politics of Poison



Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's recent decision to refuse to schedule a vote on the U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement has placed American trade and security policy within the center of the political landscape for the current election year.  Pelosi has justified her position publicly by reason of what she describes as Colombia's failure to make significant headway in addressing the problem of the paramilitaries in that country, who are still in a process of demobilization following a 2004 agreement to disarm and disband implemented by the Colombian government and monitored by international human rights groups.  Included among these is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States, who last month released their report for 2007 on Colombia, in which they observed that the Colombian government had demonstrated "its commitment to pacification," though they also expressed concerns about the need for greater protection of witnesses testifying against former paramilitaries, within a legal process necessary for victims and their families to receive awards for damages and reparations, as well as presenting evidence that not all paramilitary groups had disarmed and there was even the possibility that some could be reforming.  But the sum total of all evidence regarding paramilitary violence in Colombia is that it has dropped off dramatically since the 2004 accord, which the IACHR has noted.

A second issue Pelosi has raised, along with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, is that violence against labor union leaders in Colombia has not been addressed to their satisfaction.  This presentation has never been made forcefully to the American people, and for good reason as George Will has pointed out, given that the level of violence is so low that the life expectancy of labor union members in Colombia is above that of the general population.  Any honest and informed observer of the process should be able to say that the real motivating factors behind Pelosi's decision to deny a vote on the U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement are two; she is keeping the Democratic Party marching in step with the trade protectionist positions of organized labor during an election year when they need labor's financial support and political activism and she is providing political cover for Barack Obama, who opposes the agreement and would be put under the microscope if the matter came up for a vote.  Hillary Clinton apparently opposes the agreement also, but her position has been ambiguous.

This is not the first time Nancy Pelosi has used her influence within the House Democratic Leadership to prevent an important debate from proceeding before the eyes of the American people.  While still House Minority Leader in September, 2005 she played the leading role in preventing a full-fledged congressional investigation into the handling of the disaster response to Hurricane Katrina, insisting that only the actions of the federal government could be investigated -- read "investigate the Bush Administration but cover the rear of Louisiana's then Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco" -- and no such inquiry has ever been held.  I live in Louisiana and within a week of Katrina's landfall I knew, along with many other Louisianans, that an open investigation would not show our state and Governor in a good light.  Inevitably the world would have known that the State of Louisiana had turned back private rescue efforts, that Governor Blanco's hesitation to call up the National Guard went so far as to extend beyond the outbreaks of post-storm violence and looting, that the State of Louisiana either did nothing or consented outright to the closure of a federal highway bridge leading into downtown New Orleans and therefore had a hand in isolating those who were stranded, and that from as early as the Tuesday after the storm Governor Blanco's own Department of State Homeland Security chief had refused permission to both the Red Cross and Salvation Army to travel to the Superdome and Convention Center to relieve the suffering saying the two sites might become "magnets," an outrageous remark that has never been explained.  What happened in New Orleans after Katrina may have been -- I actually would argue "was" -- the most significant civil rights crime in America since the era of legalized segregation and Pelosi refused to let the Congress investigate it or to have the facts discussed in front of the American people.  This was poisonous betrayal of the most vulnerable among us, pure and simple, but it gained political advantage for Pelosi in her drive to wrest control of the House of Representatives away from the Republicans, and she obviously has not forgotten the lesson.

Pelosi Also Played a Major Role in Preventing an Open Discussion in Congress of the post-Katrina Abandonment of Displaced New Orleanians

We can only hope that the venemous nature of political manipulation we have seen from Nancy Pelosi will be replaced by a more open and honest exercise of legislative leadership. This appears doubtful at present, so in the meantime we can only call it what it is openly.

It is poison, pure and simple.


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