WASHINGTON – President Bush delivered an impassioned appeal Wednesday for congressional approval of a free-trade agreement with Colombia, linking it to economic progress for the South American nation and to U.S. security from terrorism.
Clearly directing his remarks at Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, with whom the Bush administration has tangled repeatedly, the president said failure to enact the trade agreement would play into the hands of “antagonists in Latin America, who would say that … America cannot be trusted to stand by its friends.”
Bush also used his speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to deliver a forceful defense of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say has cost some Americans their jobs.
Bush has placed increasing emphasis on the Colombia pact in recent weeks, speaking about it with urgency and sending key members of his administration to meet with Democratic congressional leaders.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., opposes the agreement, arguing that the Colombian government has not done enough to curb violence against labor organizers. In a written statement Wednesday, she cautioned the president against sending the pact to Congress without working out Democrats’ objections.
On Wednesday, Bush indicated that he would send the measure to the Capitol soon after the Easter recess, which under the “fast-track” trade authority in effect when the agreement was signed would set a 90-day deadline for a vote, with no amendments or filibusters allowed.