The Colombian Ambassador Carolina Barco held a reception in honor of my
old boss, former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. Barco was effusive in
her praise of Denny, who in the mid-1990s took a keen interest her
Back then, Colombia was teetering on the edge of complete chaos. Drug cartels and then narco-terrorists had the upper hand in their battle for control. Brutal murders, kidnapping and overall mayhem constantly terrorized Colombian citizens. Because the drug merchants had so much money, they were well-equipped and -armed, and they gave the Colombian military a run for its money. Because the cartels had so much money, they were also able buy off many in the justice system and in the police force.
Hastert initially started looking into Colombia from his perch as chairman of a Government Oversight Committee that focused on the war on drugs. He saw that what happened in Colombia had a direct impact on the national security of the American people. He saw that drugs from Colombia were making their way to street corners in the big cities, the suburbs and in rural America. He saw that kids were being killed in drug conflicts because of drugs that were being produced in Colombia.
Because Hastert is the kind of guy who never lets go of an issue once he got ahold of it, he took on Colombia as his own personal jihad. He lobbied then-Speaker Gingrich to push the White House to come up with a plan to aid the Colombian government. When he became Speaker, he designed his own plan, later known as Plan Colombia, to provide aid to the government. He worked with President Clinton’s anti-drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, and eventually, through sheer force of his persistence, made Plan Colombia the law of the land.
It wasn’t easy. Neither the Clinton administration nor the Bush administration later on thought that Plan Colombia could work. Democrats in Congress (who also seem to take the side of the narco-terrorists, for some reason) opposed Plan Colombia, because they didn’t like the politics of fighting drugs at their source, and they didn’t like President Pastrana, his successor President Uribe or either of their tactics.
But Hastert persisted. And he kept the pressure on a reluctant American bureaucracy, and by keeping funding to the Colombian government, he kept the pressure on the narco-terrorists.
Earlier this year, the president of Colombia awarded Hastert the country’s highest civilian medal, the Cross of San Carlos. They did it because they knew without Hastert’s help, they would have become a failed state.
Today, Colombia is thriving. According to the CIA sourcebook, “Colombia experienced accelerating growth between 2002 and 2007, chiefly due to advancements in domestic security, to rising commodity prices and to President Uribe's pro-market economic policies. Colombia's sustained growth helped reduce poverty by 20 percent and cut unemployment by 25 percent since 2002.” While its economy has slowed down a bit in the last couple of years because of the global financial crisis, it is still moving in the right direction.
One thing that could solidify Colombia’s position against the narco-terrorists, and improve its economic growth for all of its citizens, is a free trade agreement with the United States. This FTA is important not only for the Colombian economy, but also for our national security and for our economy. The FTA includes important intellectual-property protections for American companies, and it will provide a real shot in the arm for Colombian farmers, especially those in the coffee and the flower business. It seems like a no-brainer to everybody, except maybe Speaker Nancy Pelosi and congressional Democrats, who refuse to bring it up for a vote.
Hastert’s leadership made a difference for the people of Colombia. His personal involvement made certain that the narco-terrorists lost and that the people of Colombia won.
There is an obvious parallel to what happened in Colombian 10 years ago in what is happening in Mexico today. Who will stand up for the Mexican people and against the Mexican drug lords in the government today? Clearly, not the Obama administration, which has been feckless when it comes to taking on this national-security threat. Clearly, not the Democratic Congress, which seems unable to do anything constructive in any aspect of American life.
Hastert proved that one person could make a difference, when he designed and then pushed through Plan Colombia. Who will design and push through a Plan Mexico so that we can beat the drug merchants of death once and for all?