Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Why is McCain Going to Colombia? (The Answer)

In a previous post, I asked "Why is McCain going to Colombia?" (He's arriving in Cartagena this evening.) I pointed out that it's an inopportune time for a trip, given that the country's president, Alvaro Uribe, has just made a sudden right turn towards despotism.

Two possible answers:
1) He's looking for some fun in the sun in Cartagena, which is one of the continent's most gorgeous cities and is populated by even more gorgeous people. (My guess is that he'll be housed during his stay at the swanky presidential guest house.)

2) The trip was dreamed up by McCain's adviser, lobbyist Charlie Black, as a favor to his many Colombian-tied clients. According to today's NY Times:

Since 1998, the lobbying firm headed until recently by Charlie Black, one of Mr. McCain’s closest confidants, has earned more than $1.8 million representing the Occidental Petroleum Corporation, the leading foreign producer of gas and oil in Colombia. The lobbying firm, BKSH & Associates, has also represented Colombian textile and apparel manufacturers and a former foreign minister and presidential candidate who is also a prominent businesswoman.

According to official filings, Mr. Black, who resigned as chairman of BKSH in March, lobbied Congress, the State Department and the White House on Occidental’s behalf regarding “general energy issues” and “general trade issues” involving Colombia. His list of activities also included winning “foreign assistance for Colombia” and efforts to block an economic embargo against the country, which has a questionable human rights record.
And that's not all. Sam Stein points out that several top McCain have lobbied for Colombia and the free trade agreement. Here's one case:

Peter Madigan, another top fundraiser for the presumptive GOP nominee, was described as a lobbyist who "works for the government of Colombia" to "promote a U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement" by ABC News. A lobbyist at Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland & Stewart, Madigan's clients include Philip Morris, Arthur Andersen, Charles Schwab, Goldman Sachs, Shell Oil and Verizon. His firm, ABC wrote, has "distributed papers defending Colombian President Alvaro Uribe against allegations of ties to paramilitary groups, and promoting the controversial anti-drug program 'Plan Colombia' as achieving 'strengthening human rights.'"

We all know that George Bush has stuffed his administration with lobbyists. But at least the Bush people were able to keep it in their pants until after the election. It looks like the McCain crew decided that it's never too early to start peddling influence. A well-timed visit and photo op with McCain is just what the embattled President Uribe needs right now, and no doubt he'll remember the favor.

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