Colombia Agreement Seen as Strong Positive in South Florida Politics

In an America more connected to other regions of the world, economic integration is seen as a political plus. In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Peter Wallsten writes:

Nationally, anxiety is rising over free trade. But the idea has become central in the race to represent a majority-Hispanic congressional district in South Florida, where the candidates are looking for a cultural connection to voters with family ties in Latin America.

The fight, waged largely over Spanish-language airwaves, is taking place in a Miami-area district that is home to one of the country's largest populations of Colombian-Americans. Support for the proposed U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement is considered as much a point of ethnic pride as a boon for business.

Republican David Rivera recently aired a radio ad calling it "shameful" that Democrat Joe Garcia had raised money with the help of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had "scorned us" by blocking the trade agreement's passage in 2008.

Mr. Garcia responded with a Spanish-language radio ad featuring a retired Colombian senator calling him a friend.

The sniping escalated last week, as Mr. Rivera appeared to claim an endorsement from the government of Colombia-only to have officials in Bogotá declare their neutrality in the race.

The skirmishes over the free-trade pact reflect one facet of Miami's complicated ethnic politics.

Republican-leaning Cuban-Americans are the biggest ethnic bloc in Florida's 25th Congressional District. But an influx of Democratic-leaning and independent Colombian-Americans over the past decade has helped transform the district, which now has a nearly equal number of Republican and Democratic voters.

Florida is home to 281,000 Hispanics of Colombian origin, the largest concentration in the country, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Both Mr. Rivera, a state House member, and Mr. Garcia, a former state utility commissioner and former Obama administration energy official, are Cuban-American and eager to reach out to local Colombians.

"There's no other issue where a Cuban-American elected official can show non-Cuban Hispanics that he somehow understands and relates to then, and that it's not all about Cuban issues," said Juan Zapata, a Colombian-American and Republican state legislator who lives in the district.

Full article here.

In 2008, NDN argued that President Bush introduced the Colombia FTA in a manner designed for failure precisely so it could be used as a political football to target the Colombian-American community in Florida. While the legacy of that political decision is still with us, it is also clear that the politics of the Colombia FTA aren't as cut and dry as Washington conventional wisdom might hold.