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Why Colombia deserves U.S. help

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They cracked down on corruption and delegitimized right-wing paramilitaries, dramatically cutting homicides, kidnappings, and guerrilla and paramilitary attacks on innocents including union organizers. At the request of the US they began aggressively extraditing narcoterrorists. They took steps to strengthen their economy and improve global competitiveness. And they stood up to President Chávez of Venezuela, defending open- market democracies and broadly based prosperity rather than the broken-down populism that is stalling the fight against poverty in Venezuela and other Andean nations.

Despite immense odds, the people of Colombia are succeeding, helped by bipartisan financing of successive US administrations and Congress. But they still need support to complete the good work that has begun.

For over 15 years, the US has been almost completely open to imports from Colombia. This was done to give Colombians economic options beyond the narcotics trade and has led to impressive economic gains and the creation of entire industries, such as cut flowers, that help women and single heads of households gain a leg up in the formal economy.

American taxpayers have also assisted by providing more than $5 billion in support under Plan Colombia. Critical to the Colombian government's efforts to fight violence and drugs, the recently reauthorized Plan Colombia began in the final months of the Clinton administration with strong bipartisan congressional support.

The next logical step in strengthening the US-Colombia relationship is the free- trade agreement. It would open Colombia to US exports and make permanent US openness to Colombian imports, providing the long-term certainty for new investments and job creation that developing nations require to prosper in the global economy. It would lock in a mutually beneficial relationship with one of the strongest allies that the US has in the region – a region in which the citizens of some countries have lost faith in US actions and intentions, supporting leaders that are in some cases openly hostile.

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