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Published: Tuesday, 7/8/2008

Colombian ties

THE Colombian military s rescue last week of 15 hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans, was a surprising, positive development.

It underlines the apparently increasing success of the government of President Alvaro Uribe in its four-decade struggle with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The FARC are destructive, hostage-taking drug dealers masking as social reformers. It would be preferable if the Colombian government settled its differences with them through negotiations, but attempts in that direction have consistently failed.

U.S. relations with Colombia are complicated, particularly under the administration of President Bush. Colombia, which has received more than $1 billion, is the United States third largest foreign aid commitment after Israel and Egypt. The money is ostensibly given to help Colombia fight drugs, but that effort has been largely a failure.

The other objective of U.S. aid has been to help the government of Mr. Uribe, a Bush ally in South America, fight the FARC. Then there is oil, and the U.S. military helps the government protect the pipeline of Occidental Petroleum.

Meanwhile, the Republicans presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, was in Colombia when the hostages were rescued. One of his principal aides, Charles R. Black, Jr., was the head until March of a firm that has been a longtime lobbyist for that country, for Occidental, and for Colombian firms and politicians. It s hard to believe that the senator s visit there was just a coincidence.

The Bush Administration has not yet been able to get Congress to approve its proposed free trade pact with Colombia. Did Mr. McCain tell Mr. Uribe he would get it done if he were elected? Were campaign contributions from U.S. business interests in Colombia part of Mr. McCain s motive for the trip?

These are questions that deserve answers.

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