Rice pushes free-trade deal with Colombia

MEDELLIN, Colombia (AP) — Colombia’s problems with violence — particularly labor strife — could get worse unless Congress approves a free-trade deal with the country, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Medellin, Colombia, with U.S. lawmakers Friday.

Rice’s visit Friday is the latest, most high-profile one in a coordinated campaign by Colombia and the White House to win over skeptical Democrats and revive the trade pact, which was first signed in 2006 but has not yet been passed by Congress.

“[I’m here] to say very strongly that whatever the challenges facing Colombia, they are not going to be easier if this free-trade deal does not pass,” Rice said Thursday in the Andean nation’s second-largest city, Medellin. “In fact, they will be harder.”

Colombia is the world’s most dangerous country for labor organizing. Rice and nine Democratic lawmakers met in Medellin with union leaders who oppose the deal to hear complaints that President Alvaro Uribe has failed to stamp out the violence, including murder.

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