As the Ranking Republican on the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, I am committed to promoting the ideals of freedom, security, and prosperity. And yet we live in an era in which we are reminded every day that freedom is a fragile thing. Around the world, freedom is under attack every day. Many are rightly focused on the dangerous nuclear ambitions of Iran and the rising fundamentalism in Afghanistan. However, I have spoken out at great lengths about the threats to freedom and prosperity that are occurring in our own hemisphere.

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez—together with the likes of Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Cuba’s Castro Brothers, and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa—is spewing a populist, leftist, and strongly anti-capitalist brand of politics that threatens to undermine the economies of the entire region. For example, recent economic data shows that Venezuela’s economy will experience zero or negative growth in 2010. However, a nation such as Peru, which has embraced free-market principles, is projected to lead the region in economic growth in 2010.

This information shows a simple truth that many recognize and agree with: countries that invest in free trade prosper. And countries that do not and close their borders and nationalize private property fail both their people and their economy.

And it is because of this that I am personally committed to the two pending free trade agreements for the region: Panama and Colombia.

Panama is a country that has been deeply committed to free trade. Panama’s newly elected leader, President Ricardo Martinelli, has been personally engaged in urging the Obama Administration to send the FTA to Congress. And, earlier this year, President Martinelli and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed an FTA. If the Obama Administration vacillates on free trade, make no mistake: we will be left behind as other nations work to lower tariffs, open borders, and increase the wealth and prosperity of their citizens.

Panama is a strong ally of the United States. And an FTA with Panama would help keep both economies open, dynamic, and competitive. Panama understands this, and I hope President Obama also understands this before the Panamanians chose to leave the U.S. behind.

The United States has always been the beacon of freedom and prosperity. Now is not the time to turn our back on free trade with our friends and allies. Freedom and free markets is the path towards long-term prosperity for the hemisphere.

The views expressed by guest bloggers on the Foundry do not necessarily reflect the views of the Heritage Foundation.