WASHINGTON — An irate Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos set aside diplomatic niceties Friday and lashed out at U.S. opponents of a free-trade pact with Colombia, accusing them of distorting his country's record on violence.
Santos, saying he had to be "respectful" of the legislative branch of another country, avoided attacking Democratic leadership opposed to the agreement, but he showed no such restraint with AFL-CIO head John Sweeney and the Americas director of Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco.
Both have lobbied hard for Congress to delay ratification of the agreement. Opposition by the AFL-CIO is viewed as especially troublesome for Colombia because organized labor provides money and volunteers to many Democratic candidates. Human Rights Watch is often critical of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's rights record.
Santos complained of a "disinformation campaign by people who say lies, who manipulate information." Santos is on an investment promotion trip in New York and Washington.
Santos was angry over an April 14 Washington Post opinion piece by Sweeney titled "Colombia: no rights, no trade."
"It is frankly sad to see a person of such stature telling lies," he said, on occasion pacing nervously in the Colombian Embassy hall where the interview took place.
Sweeney cited several statistics, including 400 union deaths since Uribe took office in 2003.
"Yes, there are problems," Santos said, "but look at the evolution."
Uribe, a popular president, is credited with reducing overall violence in Colombia. Since February 2007, a special unit of the prosecutor's office has begun more than 700 investigations, arrested 88 suspects and convicted 64 people, including 38 convictions for murders of union members.
Santos was also angry at a letter by Vivanco that the New York Times printed Friday. Vivanco, who once got in a yelling confrontation with Uribe, said ratification would "vanish" any pressure on Uribe to change his ways.
"This is a lie, a falsehood," said Santos.
Vivanco, in an e-mail response, said the personal attacks by Santos were "unfortunate."