Wednesday, July 02, 2008

On McCain, Cocaine, and His Diplomatic Finesse in Latin America

John McCain is on a campaign junket to Bolivia today. He flew out in his Boeing 737 “Straight Talk Express,” and is at this moment hobnobbing with Colombian government officials, talking about trade relations, talking about captive pilots, not talking about coca.

Unbelievable. In Colombia you can’t talk about anything unless you also include their coca crop. Colombia has the highest coca leaf yield in South America. And with the United States’ coca eradication program taking a back seat to Iran, Iraq, North Korea and what have you, Colombia’s “coca agricultural project” is at an all time high.

But when you read all about McCain’s trip in the news, all you read about is the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, a measure which has stalled in congress. That and how McCain wants the anti-government insurgent group, FARC, to release an American pilot that they are holding captive.

But you don’t hear much about the coca crop unless it is put in context with the free trade act. Then you do. The free trade act, you see, is going to suppress the cocaine market. If Colombian growers can’t sell a legitimate product with American supports, they will “turn to” coca.

So there you have it, the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement is all about suppressing the cocaine market and a “No” vote on this act is a vote for the Bolivian drug lords.

Speaking of McCain in Latin America, this brings up something else that I read about today. It seems McCain’s Latin America trip evoked a memory of a previous trip made to Nicaragua by Senator Thad Cochran (R - Miss), who along with John McCain, Bob Dole, and a couple of others, visited with members the new Sandinista government in 1987. Cochran recalled that John McCain and an associate of Nicaragua president Daniel Ortega were huddled together at one end of a long table, when all of a sudden McCain angrily arose, grabbed the Ortega staffer by his shirt collar, and lifted him out of his chair.

Said Cochran:

“I don't know what he was telling him but I thought, 'Good grief, everybody around here has got guns and we were there on a diplomatic mission.' I don't know what had happened to provoke John, but he obviously got mad at the guy ... and he just reached over there and snatched ... him.”
McCain and Cochran apparently don’t have many good things to say about each other. McCain often opposed Cochran’s earmarks, Cochran responding in kind with “John McNasty” stories: Cochran was once heard to say that the idea of having John McCain as the GOP presidential nominee “sent a chill down his spine.”

But you know, we haven’t heard about McCain roughing up any Colombian officials yet. McCain was comparatively young, 50 years old, when he picked up the Nicaraguan, and now at 71, is probably a little more careful with the fights that he picks.

And that, in the end, is probably the only good thing about McCain’s age if he were, by some remote chance, to become president. At 72, he probably wouldn’t be picking up any people at a diplomatic negotiation or summit meeting.

Let alone when he is 76.

No comments: