McCain to tour Columbian drug control efforts

McCain to tour Columbian drug control efforts

Posted: Wednesday, July 2, 2008 9:16 pm
By: AP

CARTAGENA, Colombia (AP) — Republican John McCain planned to tour a Colombian port by boat today to get a firsthand look at the country’s drug interdiction programs, a day after he praised President Alvaro Uribe for Colombia’s anti-drug efforts but pressed him to improve the government’s record on human rights. The Republican presidential hopeful was on a three-day visit to Colombia and Mexico, where the eradication of illegal drugs topped the agenda. “Drugs is a big, big problem in America. The continued flow of drugs from Colombia through Mexico into the United States is still one of our major challenges for all Americans,” McCain told ABC’s “Good Morning America” today in an interview from Cartagena. McCain was also promoting free trade deals like NAFTA he said would benefit the U.S. economy over time, even though such agreements have been deeply unpopular in several general election swing states like Ohio and Michigan. McCain acknowledged that the economy is a top concern for many voters, and said he is better prepared to deal with the economy than his Democratic rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. “I’m very strong on the economy,” McCain said. “I understand it, I have a lot more experience than my opponent.” In December, McCain told reporters: “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should.” The Arizona senator was also meeting with cabinet ministers and business leaders. He was scheduled to depart this afternoon for Mexico City. McCain met with Uribe Tuesday night at the Colombian leader’s seaside retreat here. The two talked for nearly two hours and addressed the country’s problematic human rights record, McCain said. “I’ve been a supporter of human rights for my entire life and career,” McCain told reporters after the meeting. “We have discussed this issue with President Uribe and will continue to urge progress in that direction. I believe progress is being made and that more progress needs to be made.” McCain is a strong supporter of a proposed free trade agreement between the U.S. and Colombia and was promoting it during his visit. His Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, opposes the Colombian agreement, which has stalled in the House amid concerns about continuing intimidation and violence against labor leaders in the country. Thirty-one trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia so far this year, eight fewer than all of last year, according to the Medellin-based Escuela Nacional Sindical, a labor research institute. Speaking to reporters, Uribe said he and McCain had discussed Obama and what Uribe described as “positive” comments by the Illinois senator about Colombia. It was unclear what Uribe was referring to. Pressed to elaborate, McCain said he and Uribe hadn’t discussed the presidential campaign but agreed on the importance of bipartisanship in dealing with international matters. “The only discussion I had concerning the presidential campaign is that I believe any partisanship ends at the water’s edge. I won’t speak of the presidential campaign,” McCain said. McCain praised Plan Colombia, a program the U.S. government launched 10 years ago to reduce cocaine production in the country. Because of Plan Colombia and other efforts, the price of an ounce of cocaine on U.S. streets had risen substantially, McCain said. The Arizona senator flew south after a campaign swing through Indiana and Pennsylvania, accompanied by his wife, Cindy, and two colleagues and top supporters of his presidential effort, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut. McCain is a strong supporter of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has been blamed for draining manufacturing jobs away from industrial states like Ohio and Michigan. Obama has vowed to renegotiate NAFTA if elected to include enforceable labor and environmental provisions. McCain has acknowledged his support for NAFTA is a hard sell in industrial states reeling from the loss of jobs. But he insisted the voters there know the U.S. economy is changing and that retraining for the new economy will be beneficial to the country and to their families over time. “I’m confident that the American people — a majority of them understand we are in a period of transition,” McCain said. “And meaningful re-education and training programs will give our workers another opportunity to be part of the information revolution we’re in today.” In Mexico, McCain also planned to address illegal immigration — an emotional issue both for Hispanic voters and many conservatives. He batted away questions about whether the trip was designed to curry favor with Hispanic voters, an increasingly influential voting bloc in some states. “I try to reach out to all voters,” he said. “I try to reach out to mothers whose children have succumbed to addiction to this terrible drug. I am reaching out to all Americans who believe our relationships in this hemisphere are important.” On the Net: McCain: http://www.johnmccain.com Published in The Messenger 7.2.08

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