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McCain on Free Trade in Colombia

CARTAGENA, Colombia — After a closed press meeting with Colombian soldiers wounded while fighting FARC rebels, Sen. John McCain and his entourage, including his wife and Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), received a briefing on Colombian drug interdiction efforts. The Arizona senator and his wife toured a port by fast boat. The group later returned to the hotel for a press conference with international press.

McCain began the conference by praising the Colombian foreign minister, who had been held hostage by FARC for six years, and called for all hostages to be freed, including three Americans.

"I consider him an international hero. Now we have to free all the others still being held hostage by the FARC."

Cindy McCain took a rare turn behind the microphone to speak about her humanitarian work as a board member of HALO Trust, a charity that works for the removal of land mines. The Colombian jungle is strewn with the explosive devices, a reminder of government’s war with FARC.

"I, along with my husband, today saw firsthand once again what land mines can do to the human body, and also what land mines can do to the future economy of a struggling country. As a philanthropist and a humanitarian, once we as HALO Trust members believe the country is safe and secure again, we will be back to make land safe for the return of adults and children."

Graham, dripping with sweat from the sweltering humidity, announced he would be leading a jungle tour later in the afternoon. He said he was not much of a free-trader, but supported the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

"I’m maybe not the most active free trader in the Senate or the House, because my state has suffered the loss of textile jobs. Many Americans are worried about the global economy and the outsourcing of jobs and how free trade may affect our jobs and country. I understand that. … I am convinced that the Colombia Free Trade Agreement is good for America. Over 90 percent of products coming from Colombia to the United States pay no duty, and 80 percent of products coming from America to Colombia do pay a duty. I am told that in the first year, over $1 billion of exports would leave America to Colombia, creating American jobs.

McCain went a step further, saying the United States should continue to work with the Organization of American States. He said he would like to see a hemispheric free trade agreement. Graham also commended President Alvaro Uribe for improving Colombia’s human-rights record.

"On the human-rights front, for a 10-year period there were two prosecutions for violence against labor leaders. Since President Uribe has been in charge, there has been over 100 cases brought. The Colombian government spends $40 million per year to provide security for labor leaders. President Uribe needs to be congratulated and his aggressive position regarding the rule of law needs to be rewarded."

Asked about reports that he got physical with a Sandinista official in Nicaragua in 1987, McCain offered a flat denial.

"I must say I did not admire the Sandinistas very much, but there was never anything of that nature. It just didn’t happen."

With that, McCain’s 22-hour visit to Colombia came to an end. Now he’s off to Mexico City.

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