Shift in U.S.
Congress may affect trade, immigration
Democrats likely taking control of Congress, Washington's
approach to Latin America could change.
Democratic control of the U.S. House and perhaps the
Senate may affect U.S. relations with Latin America and the
Caribbean by clearing the way for sweeping immigration
reforms but casting a shadow over two crucial free-trade
agreements and U.S. antidrug aid to Colombia, analysts say.
The overall dynamics of
hemispheric relations aren't likely to change dramatically,
the analysts said. In cases like Cuba and leftist Venezuelan
President Hugo Chávez, many Democrats view them with as much
distaste as many Republicans.
But there are likely to be
changes on specific issues such as immigration and trade,
said Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary of state
for the Western Hemisphere.
Free-trade agreements with
Colombia and Peru now awaiting congressional approval will
be in ''very serious trouble in a Democratic House,'' he
said. But the House may want to take up a temporary-worker
program as part of that broad immigration overhaul that
President Bush has advocated, he added.
Both Republicans and
Democrats voted to authorize the construction of a border
fence, an initiative that infuriated Mexico and many Latin
American countries. Bush signed the bill but prefers, along
with many senators, a more comprehensive overhaul that
includes more guest workers and a path for undocumented
immigrants to legalize their status.
Supporters of comprehensive
immigration reform say that some of the most vocal
proponents of a crackdown on migrants lost their races,
including Republican Reps. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona and John
Hostettler of Indiana, who is head of the Subcommittee on
Immigration, Border Security and Claims.
''The most vitriolic
anti-immigration candidates went down in defeat,'' said
Tamar Jacoby, with the conservative New York think tank
Democrats generally have
opposed free-trade agreements as lacking safeguards for
workers abroad. Peru is pushing to have its pact with the
United States passed in the lame-duck session of the U.S.
Congress that begins next week, while Colombia's pact is due
for ratification next year.
However, many Democrats have
said they want to extend two unilateral trade preference
regimes that already allow many imports to enter the United
States duty-free: the Generalized System of Preferences,
which affects countries like Brazil, Venezuela and
Argentina, and the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug
Eradication Act, which impacts Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and
Democrats also favor a
textile trade agreement with Haiti that Republicans from
textile-producing states have blocked.
Democratic members of the
black caucus have long pushed for better ties with the
''If the change means a
renewed focus on the Caribbean, we welcome it greatly,
because for some time the Caribbean has been expressing
disappointment in the state of the relationship,'' said
Jamaican Foreign Affairs Minister Anthony Hylton.
On drug trafficking, the Bush
administration is expected to present Congress soon with a
new multiyear proposal to continue financing Plan Colombia,
which ended last year and is being funded on a provisional
The proposal will draw close
scrutiny from Democrats on the House International Relations
Committee, says Lynne Weil, a spokeswoman for Rep. Tom
Lantos, the California Democrat who will chair the panel.
``Democrats and probably some
Republicans on the committee would be eager to shift course
in strategy, since coca cultivation levels are about at the
same place they were five years ago and $4 billion ago.''
SHIFT IN FOCUS
One Republican Senate staff
member, who declined to be identified because he was not
authorized to speak to the media, said any change on
Colombia will be a matter of focus: Democrats will center
more on human rights and demobilization of guerrilla
fighters, while Republicans are more concerned about drug
Colombian Ambassador Carolina
Barco said she is confident that both Plan Colombia and the
free-trade agreement will pass because her country has
traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support in the U.S.
Congress. Plan Colombia was launched under the Clinton
elections also produced a mixed picture on Cuba. Several
supporters of U.S. sanctions on Cuba lost. But Sen. Robert
Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and a defender of the
embargo, won, while Rhode Island Republican Sen. Lincoln
Chafee, a critic of the embargo, lost.
Mauricio Claver-Carone, the
Washington head of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action
Committee, a group that lobbies to keep the embargo, says
several of the losing House Republicans were critical of
Bush's policy toward Havana.
''At the end of the day, when
all this is said and done, we might come out just as
strong,'' he said.
Miami Herald staff writer
Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.