jump to navigation

Colombia Free Trade Deal Could Boost Cocaine Exports May 9, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Drugs, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

There’s only one Colombian industry that can potentially employ workers who would lose their job in the wake of a free trade deal.

Jess Hunter-Bowman By Jess Hunter-Bowman

Manuel Esteban Tejada was a teacher in the Colombian province of Cordoba, near the Panamanian border. Unfortunately for him, he was also a union member. On January 10, paramilitary gunmen broke into his house at 6 a.m. and shot him multiple times, killing him.

Tejada was the first trade unionist killed in Colombia in 2011, but not the last. At least five more have already been killed this year. Colombian and international labor officials report that 51 unionized workers in Colombia were killed in 2010–25 of them teachers. More union members were killed in Colombia last year than in the rest of the world combined.

The fact that Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world to belong to a union hasn’t kept President Barack Obama from backing a free-trade deal with the South American nation that would further erode labor rights and wages.

Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recently announced a labor rights “action plan” as a ploy to gain congressional votes in favor of the controversial deal. The Obama administration hopes this effort, which would do virtually nothing to deal with the violence targeting labor leaders, will convince some Democrats to hold their noses and vote for the trade deal, despite Colombia’s deadly labor track record.

Just days before the two leaders made their announcement, Hector Orozco and Gildardo Garcia–farm workers who belonged to a union–were murdered. Business as usual in Colombia.

It’s no surprise that Washington would sacrifice labor rights in the rush to secure this free trade deal. But Colombia isn’t only the world’s leader in union murders–it’s also the world’s leading cocaine producer. Although efforts to stamp out drug trafficking have dominated the U.S.-Colombia relationship for decades, this trade deal would likely boost cocaine production.

Free trade deals scrap tariffs and quotas on imports. Countries that enter such agreements can no longer protect strategic industries and sectors to ensure they are competitive. And no one in Latin America can compete with U.S. grain farmers. The technology, mechanization, and subsidies at U.S. famers’ disposal make grain production in the United States extremely cheap relative to Latin America.

For example, once Mexico eliminated corn tariffs and quotas under NAFTA guidelines, an estimated 2 million Mexican corn farmers went bankrupt. They simply couldn’t compete with U.S. corn prices.

Research has shown that 1.8 million Colombian farmers will see their net income fall 17 percent if the U.S.-Colombia trade deal is enacted. An estimated 400,000 will see their net incomes fall by between 48 percent and 70 percent.

Meanwhile, Caterpillar (which wants to sell bulldozers to Colombia), Walmart (which wants to resume tariff-free purchases of Colombian flowers), and other large U.S. corporations stand to profit handsomely from the U.S.-Colombia free trade deal.

Free traders in Congress and the corporate lobbyists who are pressuring them insist that the trade deal will create new jobs, absorbing people from sectors without a “comparative advantage.” That’s a boldface lie. Since the early 1990s, nearly all Colombian exports have entered the U.S. tariff-free under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. Any jobs created in Colombia by gaining unfettered access to U.S. markets were created years ago.

But there is one Colombian export market that can always absorb new workers: the cocaine trade. When Colombian farmers are pushed out of grain farming due to cheap U.S. imports, expect them to face a terrible choice. They’ll either lose their farm, join the vast ranks of Colombia’s unemployed, and watch their children drop out of school and become malnourished–or switch to farming coca crops to stay on their farm, keep their kids in school, and put food on their tables.

Colombian farmers want out of coca farming because it doesn’t pay very well and violence often dogs coca production. But the U.S.-Colombia trade deal will leave them with virtually no other choice.

By pushing it forward, Washington is catering to corporate interests instead of heeding Colombia’s human rights crisis and seriously considering its impact on illegal drug trafficking. We can only hope that there are enough lawmakers willing to recognize that this deal isn’t worth the costs to us or to Colombians.

Jess Hunter-Bowman is the Associate Director of Witness for Peace, a nonprofit organization with a 30-year history monitoring U.S. policy in Latin America. http://witnessforpeace.org

IN SEARCH OF ANTANAS MOKUS September 9, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

In Search of Antanas MokusPosted on September 9, 2010 by Gerard Coffey

http://lalineadefuego.wordpress.com/

The light is green but no-one is moving

Gerard Coffey. Quito 09 September 2010

I was recently in Colombia. I like Bogotá. It’s a big city that seems to have everything. Lots of places to drink good coffee, people who actually want to help you, a mass transit system that seems to function, most of the time. Besides, Colombia is the land of deserts. Heaven for the sweet toothed.  But apart from personal vices[i], the visit had other highlights. It was the country’s bicentenary (20th July) as well the period between the Presidential elections and the inauguration of Juan Manuel Santos as the country’s new head of state (August 9th). An interesting time. Not least because of the massive march held by the regime’s opponents the day after the official celebrations[ii] and the friction between Venezuela and Colombia resulting from still President Alvaro Uribe’s accusations that the neighbouring country was sheltering terrorists, more commonly known as the FARC.

Although the visit was not work related, I did have a goal: to interview Antanas Mokus, the Green Party Candidate who lost the Presidential election, but was supported by more than a quarter of Colombian voters, i.e. those that did actually vote[iii].  Despite the loss, there was a sense at the time that something important was happening. The Mokus Green Party campaign was different, a breath of clean air. It offered some sort of hope for a country plagued by the decades of internal violence, drugs and corruption.  It could make things happen.

But I was never able to find Sr. Mokus or, what seemed far more surprising, the Green Party.  I looked everywhere, I tried all the phone numbers and e-mail addresses I could find, I even found a man who gave me two telephone numbers he said would help, on the condition that I didn’t mention his name. That turned out to be less of a problem than I imagined: neither of the numbers was ever answered. I once even thought I had found the head office. Two people, a local vendor and a security guard assured me that it was close by, just around the corner. And I found it. They were right. It was the party headquarters, of the Polo Democrático.  A friend finally suggested that his brother, who apparently lived behind  Mokus’ house, was willing to go and knock on his door. But apart from the invasion of privacy issue, by then it was too late. It was time to go back to Quito. So I contented myself with a few books I had bought, and the experiences the stay had brought.

With hindsight

Two months later the whole episode seems more curious than anything else. The world has moved on. Santos has installed a massive majority in the Colombian Congress, appears to have reunited the Liberal Party, has been making comforting noises internationally, heads a government more technocratic than ideological, especially when compared to the previous regime, and has distanced himself from his predecessor. Santos is his own man. And Alvaro Uribe? Well, he appears to have disappeared.  Off the map. Into the special house/fortress designed for him in a military sector of the city.

With time the search for Antanas Mokus and the Green Party also seems less puzzling.   I’m no longer surprised that I couldn’t locate either. As I now realise, the Green Party  doesn’t exist. Never did exist. It was an electoral apparatus. That is not to say that the objectives of the people that participated in, ran, and supported the Mokus- Fajardo campaign were a sham. Far from it.  The movement embodied a great deal of sincerity and hope, as well as counting on heavy weight political backers such as Luis Garzón and Enrique  Peñalosa, both ex mayors of Bogotá and, of course, on the vice presidential candidate, Sergio Fajardo, himself a popular ex mayor of Medellin. But there was never any infrastructure. And I can’t help asking myself what would have happened if Mokus had won. Perhaps the voters asked themselves the same question.

Perhaps everything would have been taken in stride. After all neither Mokus nor Garzón is a political neophyte.  Perhaps if he had won, everything would have seemed normal enough.  Perhaps the worst thing, at least in institutional, party political terms, was to lose. If the head of foam that surrounded the campaign in the first round had gone flat by the second, the beer itself has now drained from the glass. The party, such as it is, appears to be in a state of paralysis. Fajardo has gone, dissociating himself from the group after complaining of being treated with a lack of seriousness. The campaign, he has said, lost momentum when he also lost it, after falling from his appropriately green bicycle and fracturing his hip. The statement has the taste of sour grapes, but it does seem evident that he and his group do not fit into whatever plans the party might have.

For the moment at least, those plans are a matter of guesswork. The papers are full reports painting Mokus as a mayoralty candidate for Bogotá in 2011, or on the other hand that, he is not a candidate, that his wife, Adriana Córdoba is a mayoralty candidate, or that she is not a candidate, that Gustavo Petro, the presidential candidate for the Polo Democrático, and one of the few losers that came out smelling of roses, has been invited to join the Greens now that the smell of flowers has become too rich for the other members of the Polo, or, that he has not signaled a desire to join, or that he supports the mayoralty candidature of Mokus’ wife, of course, should she actually be a candidate. In practice the only solid evidence of movement is the appointment of Garzón as Party President and spokesperson.

A lot of the sense of confusion and loss of direction could be press manipulation, not of the facts, but rather what is printed and what is not. The mainstream media in Colombia is heavily Santified and in large part falls under the influence of his family, and Juan Manuel is probably not too keen to see the Green Party and its people pick up an opposition mantle that is presently lying over a puddle in the road. It all seems such a shame, such a deception. Perhaps Mokus is right when he says that decisions must be timely but not hasty. Perhaps under Garzón the Party will be able to shake off the slightly Wizard of Ozzish image it has recently acquired.  Perhaps by the time of the municipal elections in 2011 the Greens will be able to take on the role that so many hoped they would. Perhaps I won’t have to write any more articles like this. That would be nice.

A final anecdote: one that in other circumstances might be considered hilarious, but in the present situation strikes a somewhat sadder, although quite telling, note. The writer cum political analyst Daniel Samper Pizano, brother of ex President Samper and columnist for El Tiempo, tells that Antanas Mokus was to have attended a recent international meeting of Green Parties in Europe, but unpacked his bags on learning that most of them were full of environmentalists and left wingers.[iv]


[i] And without wanting to ignore in any way the very serious problems of poverty and violence the city suffers from. 

[ii] Judging from the banners most of the marchers were from rural areas and while no literature or information was available about the organizers, or the demands, the mere size of the march, and its open hostility to Santos/Uribe was impressive. The march must have been at least ten thousand strong, but did not receive major coverage. El Tiempo mainly commented on accusations of damage created by the marchers, although this observer saw no violence. The march was in fact heavily patrolled by its own marshals.

[iii] The election was marked by extremely high levels abstention. In the first round only 42.9% voted, while in the second 44.41%. However, this is not a record. For example, when Ernesto Samper was elected in 1994 only 34% of the voting population found their way to the booth.

[iv] Daniel Samper Pizano Los verdes: biches y extraviados El Tiempo Jueves 04 de septiembre 2010

Colombia: Paramilitary Chief Says He Helped Finance Uribe’s Campaign April 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment
www.upsidedownworld.org Print E-mail
Written by Constanza Vieira   
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
 (IPS) – Former Colombian paramilitary chief and drug lord Diego Murillo, alias “Don Berna”, testified in a U.S. court that he helped finance President Álvaro Uribe’s first election campaign, in 2002.

The president’s campaign chief denied the allegation.

“Don Berna” was sentenced Wednesday to 31 years in prison and fined four million dollars for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States.

Murillo, 48, was extradited in a surprise move by Uribe on May 13, 2008, along with 13 other heads of the far-right paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), which formally disbanded in 2007 after engaging in demobilisation negotiations with the government from 2003 to 2006.

They were wanted by the U.S. justice system on drug trafficking charges.

During the trial in a New York courtroom, one of Murillo’s lawyers, Margaret Shalley, read out a statement depicting her client as a victim of Communist violence, a patriot who was left disabled – he has a prosthetic leg – and nevertheless continued generating money to help his people.

The lawyer asked federal U.S. District Judge Richard Berman to take into account, before sentencing her client, that he and the AUC backed Uribe’s presidential campaign in 2002, to which he contributed “large sums of money.”

When she was finished reading the declaration, the judge asked Murillo if he had any objection to what his lawyer had read out, and he said no.

Murillo said that using the money that he derived from drug trafficking was the only way to block the advance of the Communist guerrillas in Colombia.

This South American country has been in the grip of a civil war since 1964, when the leftwing guerrillas took up arms.

Murillo was sentenced to 375 months in prison on drug trafficking charges.

After the trial, Murillo’s Colombian defence attorneys approached Iván Cepeda, spokesman for the Movement of Victims of Crimes of the State (MOVICE), and told him that their client had asked that his support for Uribe be explicitly included in the statement read out by Shalley.

They also told Cepeda that Murillo was prepared to elaborate, before the Colombian justice system, on his allegations that incriminated Uribe, and to present proof, and said they hoped that this could be done as soon as possible.

The manager of Uribe’s 2002 and 2006 campaigns, Fabio Echeverri, said in Bogota that Murillo’s declaration was “false.”

Echeverri, who has been the spokesman for the National Association of Industrialists for 18 years, said the campaigns were financed by donations from companies and individuals, whose checks were deposited in a bank account after the origin of the funds was checked, a process that took between 15 and 20 days.

The Colombian government has not responded to Murillo’s statement.

The U.S. court did not agree to hear the testimony of any of Murillo’s victims.

At the time, the Colombian government promised that the extraditions would not interfere with the legal proceedings carried out under the so-called Justice and Peace Law, which was approved by Congress to facilitate the demobilisation of the far-right militias.

To that end, under an agreement with the U.S. authorities, Colombia’s attorney-general’s office and ministry of the interior and justice were to arrange for judicial cooperation with the U.S. courts.

Under the Justice and Peace Law, which laid out the rules for the demobilisation process, the maximum sentence was eight years for those who gave a full confession of their crimes.

The extradition agreement states that the sentences handed down to Colombians in U.S. courts could be no longer than the maximum penalties they would have faced in Colombia.

The opposition Liberal Party expressed strong concern over Murillo’s declaration. “At this point we cannot make a judgment, but we need to know the whole truth,” said its spokeswoman, Senator Cecilia López, who aspires to become her party’s presidential candidate.

The declaration implicating Uribe “in a U.S. court is extremely serious, and cannot be ignored,” Gloria Flórez, the head of the Minga Association, told IPS.

“The Colombian state has the obligation to open an investigation into the declaration made by Don Berna, in which he openly refers to financing the president’s campaign,” she said.

The constitution establishes that any investigation of the president has to be carried out by the lower house of Congress, and then the Senate. In case the charges involve criminal wrongdoing, the process is to be referred to the Supreme Court.

But Uribe’s supporters have a majority in both houses of Congress.

In any case, said Flórez, “the justice system has to move on this issue.”

“If it is true, he (Murillo) has to show the evidence. If it’s not true, it has to be clarified before society that the presidential campaign was clean and that there was no involvement by drug traffickers,” the human rights defender said. And in order to do that, she added, “legal proceedings must be initiated, to show society the truth.”

Flórez expressed “concern because there are no guarantees in the United States that action will be taken to find out the truth. Failing to listen to the victims of human rights violations in Colombia is part of that lack of guarantees.”

“All the United States is interested in is the drug trafficking issue. So where does that leave the question of reparations for the victims?”

During the demobilisation negotiations with the government, Murillo went by the name “Adolfo Paz”, portrayed himself as an AUC inspector, and wrote to journalists criticising their reports.

Before he became a leader of the AUC, which is accused of committing tens of thousands of human rights crimes, “Don Berna” was a leftist guerrilla in the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), which broke off from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – the main rebel group – in the 1960s and barely exists today.

In the 1980s he became involved in the Medellín drug cartel, headed by the late notorious kingpin Pablo Escobar. But he then turned on his boss.

“Don Berna” was active in and around the city of Medellín where, according to Verdad Abierta, the biggest Colombian on-line archive on the paramilitaries, “he brought in votes for the candidates he backed.”

His henchmen in the area, who belonged to the Cacique Nutibara Bloc of the AUC, were the first to demobilise, in November 2003, when the government was still doubting whether to recognise “Don Berna” as a paramilitary leader, instead of just a drug lord.

A year earlier, in October 2002, in Operation Orión, troops allegedly acting in collusion with “Don Berna’s” men seized control of a poor Medellín district known as Comuna 13 to “cleanse” the area of FARC and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas.

After the paramilitary demobilisation, some of the members of the Cacique Nutibara Bloc managed to get elected to Juntas de Acción Comunal, neighborhood councils that play the role of interlocutor with the state.

Verdad Abierta cites the case of William López, alias “Memín”, who was elected in October 2007 as a representative of Comuna 8, another Medellín neighbourhood, but was later arrested and sentenced for forced displacement and aggravated intimidation of voters.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 221 other followers