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Medellin Wonders What Pelosi, Sweeney are Smoking

Author: Amity Shlaes, Former Hayek Senior Fellow for Political Economy
September 20, 2007


Is there a town in the world with a reputation worse than Medellin’s?

Colombia’s second-biggest city has a rep so bad that it has almost become a parody of itself. In the HBO series “Entourage,” the characters are obsessed with capturing the evil of Pablo Escobar in a film called “Medellin,” chronicling his rise to head the drug cartel that ruled the city.

To most U.S. citizens those three syllables are code for all that is wrong with Latin America — the lawlessness, the drugs, the delusion that a network of thugs substitutes for a real economy.

Congress feels about the same way. A bilateral free trade agreement, or FTA, between the U.S. and Colombia is one of four such agreements that the Bush administration wants lawmakers to approve this autumn. Panama and Peru may get the nod, but Colombia, along with South Korea, is in doubt.

AFL-CIO labor union President John Sweeney has labeled Colombia a “gross human rights violator” and slammed President Alvaro Uribe for failing to halt murders of union leaders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shares his attitude. Their underlying hesitation is simple: If Medellin is in Colombia, then Colombia is too dangerous to trade with.

But maybe Medellin has changed. Travelers there recently with Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez found a powerful turnaround that argued not only for endorsing the FTA, but also taking a second look at the region.

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