The daring rescue in Colombia of three American contractors and a Colombian presidential candidate is headline news. And well it should be. The operation showed courage, ingenuity and incredible competence. Colombia deserves a full vote of thanks from the American people.
Serving as a backdrop to the rescue was the visit of U.S. presidential contender Sen. John McCain. All week the Colombian television stations have been aglow with the event. And though McCain went there to tout free trade, excerpts from his speeches have tended to punctuate the good work Colombia's president Alvaro Uribe is doing against paramilitary groups and other thugs.
With the rescue, the proof was in the pudding.
Of course, just the presence of a presidential candidate in Colombia showcases the country as a vital link between the United States and Latin America. As Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile and others slide left, Peru and Colombia remain high on the list of market-driven countries the United States hopes to cultivate. And that fact isn't lost on Colombia. People there are pleased to tick off the dates, times and places of visits by George Bush pere, Bill Clinton and the two visits by President George W. Bush. Colombia knows it is a key player.
Of course, not everyone is on board with that.
"President Uribe is making progress," Rep. Rob Bishop told the Deseret News editorial board on Wednesday, "but I don't feel comfortable with what's happening in Colombia."
On the other hand, a syndicated op-ed piece by columnist Alvaro Vargas Llosa takes a different slant: "The United States can still, through its policies, encourage or slow down the current trends south of the border...Were it not for the benefits of expanded trade, which in the case of Mexico has grown by 400 percent in the last 15 years, migration to the north would be greater."
The upshot is this: Offering aid isn't a bad idea.
But it's not the answer.
Sending in the Peace Corps, talking to adversaries, bonding over conservation and updating military strategies are all fine.
But they are not the answer.
The answer, as Vargas Llosa says, is "Latin Americans need to continue to move toward self-reliance."
And that means the United States must help, where possible, to prime the engines of their economies so nations can run with more success on their own.
Despite the recent military rescue, economic success, in the end, is the best antidote to terror and turmoil.