Obama ally knocks Romney for cheap oil deal with Chávez
Romney has criticized Obama’s economic policies in Latin America, but how does he measure up?
An ally of President Obama says Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been spreading lies about the president’s trade record and attacked the GOP hopeful for having a dubious history of dealing with Latin American nations.
The former Massachusetts governor has made trade a central tenet of his economic message, saying at rallies and in speeches that he will push for more free-trade agreements with Latin American nations while claiming that Obama hasn’t lifted a finger on trade issues as president.
“Forty-four different trade agreements being negotiated by China and European nations with other nations around the world. Guess how many trade agreements our president’s negotiated? None. None,” Romney said in a June 14 speech in Ohio.
When asked at an appearance in New Hampshire last Friday to offer specific ideas on how he would improve the economy, Romney said, “opening up new markets in Latin America. The president hasn’t done that in three and a half years, no new trade agreements.”
“It’s a policy of distortions. I don’t want to call them lies, but [it’s] clearly a lot of lies and clearly not very well informed,” Luis Lauredo, an ambassador to the Organization of American States under President Clinton who is now an Obama backer in Florida, responded in an interview with Univision News.
It’s true that Obama has not opened any new trade negotiations during his first term, but last year he completed three major accords initially signed by President George W. Bush with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, which were hailed as the largest series of free-trade deals since NAFTA was signed in the 1990s. The Obama administration has also continued trade talks under the 11-nation Trans Pacific Partnership (which includes Peru and Chile), and Lauredo noted that the U.S. played an integral role in getting Mexico invited to the talks last month.
Lauredo, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, said that Romney doesn’t have a leg to stand on when addressing Obama’s record in dealing with Latin America.
He rapped Romney for applauding a controversial deal Massachusetts lawmakers struck in 2005 with Venezuelan oil company Citgo to provide low-cost heating oil to the state’s poor residents. Romney was governor at the time and many criticized the deal because of Citgo’s ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
“He hasn’t done anything for Latin America except welcome Chávez’s oil company in Massachusetts for cheap oil,” Lauredo said. “That’s the only thing [he did] when he was governor.”
Romney’s praise of the deal with Chávez, whom he did not mention by name when he welcomed the agreement, arose during the Florida Republican primary in January. The Romney campaign pointed out that the candidate has spoken for years about Chávez’s efforts “to spread an anti-American movement across Latin America.”
“We are not gringo imperialists, we want respectful bilateral and multilateral relations,” he said. “If you do not want to be in a free trade agreement with the United States, it’s fine with us.”
Lauredo also noted that free trade agreements take a long time to negotiate no matter who is president and it is no easy task to get them passed through Congress. On the Colombian FTA for example, the president had to contend with other Democrats and labor groups that opposed the deal because of concerns about union busting in the South American nation. Renegotiating the terms of the deals to include more assistance to displaced U.S. workers took a tremendous amount of political capital, Lauredo said.
On the flip side, Republicans have continued to criticize Obama’s approach to trade as too slow and incremental. Romney and others have said the U.S. is losing new trading partners, especially in Latin America, to China and Europe. But Lauredo attacked Romney for lacking the expertise to deal with Latin American nations, saying he “doesn’t know anything about the region.”
“We have 120 more days of these kinds of distortions on policy,” added Lauerdo. “It’s just dead wrong on the facts and dead wrong on execution.”