The Boston Globe today runs an op-ed piece urging passage of a free-trade agreement with Colombia. The piece, by Marc Grossman, is reasoned and nuanced, celebrating Colombia’s rescue of 15 hostages last week while acknowledging that the government of President Álvaro Uribe must continue to improve its human-rights record.
But there’s a hidden agenda. The tagline states that Grossman is a vice chairman of the Cohen Group, and is a former undersecretary of state. That’s a pretty weak disclosure. In fact, a little Googling reveals that the Cohen Group, founded by former secretary of defense William Cohen, helps private clients do business internationally. Here’s the lowdown, taken directly from the Cohen Group’s Web site:
The Cohen Group (TCG) assists clients to navigate the political and business landscape in Latin America.
Secretary Cohen and TCG principals have developed and maintain strong ties with political, business, military, and media officials throughout Latin America that can help to accomplish client business objectives in the region. Our understanding of and relationships in the region have enabled TCG to assist numerous firms in the U.S., Spain and elsewhere in Europe that have business interests in Latin America….
Ambassador Marc Grossman, as Under Secretary of State until 2005, worked directly with leaders from across the region on a broad range of political, economic and security issues. For his efforts to promote democracy and fight narcoterrorism in Colombia, he was awarded Colombia’s highest civilian honor, the Order of San Carlos.
An opinion piece such as Grossman’s is worthless if it’s not independent. The Cohen Group would benefit mightily from a free-trade deal with Colombia. Surely there are experts who could have made the case as effectively as Grossman without being tainted by their future earnings being tied up in the outcome of the free-trade debate.