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Despite Promises, Colombia FTA Does Little to End Abuse of Labor Activists August 5, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
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Published on Sunday, August 5, 2012 by Common Dreams

 

Assurances by both governments fail to end violence against workers

- Common Dreams staff

According to activists, 34 Colombian trade unionists have been killed since the LAP was implemented, including 11 this year alone. (Image AFL-CIO)

Despite repeated assurances from both the US and Colombian governments, labor leaders say that two months after the implementation of a bi-lateral trade deal between the two countries few meaningful protections for unionists have been implemented.

“We ask President (Barack) Obama to push for more guarantees for Colombian workers,” Miguel Conde, with Sintrainagro, a union representing workers on palm-oil plantations, said at at press event held at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington. “In Colombia, it is easier to form an armed group than a trade union… because we still have no guarantees from the government.”

The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (Colombia FTA) was originally negotiated by the George W. Bush administration. Colombia—a country that for decades has been the most dangerous place in the world for trade union organizers— promsied to curtail the culture of murder and abuse, but human rights groups both inside and outside of Colombia warned against the deal. After several years, the US Congress ultimately approved the pact in October 2011, but only after the inclusion of a 37-point Labour Action Plan (LAP), designed to improving the conditions for Colombian workers and organizers.

The problem, according to activists interviewed by Al-Jazeera and a report recently released by the AFL-CIO, is that the protections are either not being implemented at all, or are insufficient to address the ongoing abuses.

“Though the LAP included some important measures that Colombian unions and the AFL-CIO have been demanding for years,” reads the AFL-CIO’s report (pdf), “its scope was too limited—it fully resolved neither the grave violations of union freedoms nor the continuing violence and threats against unionists and human rights defenders.”

“What happened since [implementation] is a surge in reprisals against almost all of the trade unions and labour activists that really believed in the Labour Action Plan,” Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, a rights advocate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a watchdog group, said at the report’s launch.

This included the April 27 killing of Daniel Aguirre, a labour leader who had helped to organise Colombia’s sugarcane workers. According to Sánchez-Garzoli, 34 Colombian trade unionists have been killed since the LAP was implemented, including 11 this year alone.

“There is no reason to believe that top officials are not making sincere efforts to make a change,” Celeste Drake, a trade policy expert with AFL-CIO, told Al-Jazeera.

“The problem is these changes cannot simply be made by people with good intentions at the top. It’s a culture within the government and throughout Colombia that for years has tolerated, condoned, promoted intolerance to the exercise of worker rights.”

Showing 2 comments

  • Yunzer, Direct Action Gets the Goods 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    The savage neoliberal capitalist state of Colombia is a vile place. Don’t let Bogota’s liberal-bourgeois reputation deceive you on this.

    It is also a 1/8th scale model of what the USA will look like in a couple more decades. I see no countervailing political-economic force to counteract this trend, and hard lessons of history (Pinkertons/Baldwin Felts = Paramilitarios) to confirm it.

    Organize! Organize!

     
  • Suspiria_de_profundis 1 comment

    Do these poor workers really think Barack Obama CARES that their union leaders are being assassinated?

    Barack Obama is not a decent or just man in any way shape or form and he will only act on this if he sees it garnering him a political advantage,

    Political leaders that show genuine concern for the worker tend to be assassinated or toppled in some CIA sponsored action.

    The truth is that these workers can only appeal to the American people and if the American people either do not care or care but can not do anyhting because theor own media and political system is totally under control of the same Corporations making profits off the worker in Colombia, nothing will be done on tthe part of the United States of America.

    The Colombian people will have to rid themselves of their own Government.

A Conspiracy of Whores April 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Cuba, Drugs, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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This sort of reform is never easy, and it’s never perfect. But we  know criminalization and militarization doesn’t work and that they are  extremely costly approaches. In a way, we have become socially addicted  to these approaches. Maybe it’s time for the nation to go into rehab and assume a little of the spirit of E. F. Schumacher’s famous book Small Is Beautiful.

  • To borrow the subtitle of the book, we’d be a whole lot better off if our leaders stopped being such corporate, imperial whores and began to  govern “as if people mattered.”

 

John Grant

I am a 62-year-old American who served in Vietnam as a 19-year-old kid who has been studying US counter-insurgency war ever since. I live outside of Philadelphia, where I am a photographer and a writer — sometimes a video filmmaker. I have been a member of Veterans For Peace for 24 years. I think the economic reckoning we are living through, that has only just begun, makes it clear we need to re-evaluate who we are as a nation and ratchet down the imperial world policeman role and look after our own deteriorating nation’s problems. I like good writing, good film, good music and good times. I drink alcohol and smoke dope responsibly. I confess this because I think the Drug War is an abysmal failure. I’m a committed pragmatist who believes in the old line: My Country Right Or Wrong. The fact is, it’s wrong a lot of the time. And I’m sticking around.

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

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Drugs, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
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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

Conservatives Revive Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement March 12, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Colombia, Latin America.
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Deal tabled as assassinations and displacement continue

Source: The Media Co-o

Written by Dawn Paley   
Thursday, 11 March 2010 14:39

The Conservatives tabled the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement in Parliament yesterday, reviving a deal many thought better left for dead.

Renewed interest in the deal comes weeks after an Amnesty International report found Indigenous peoples in Colombia are at risk of being exterminated by state forces, right wing paramilitary groups and guerrilla organizations.

But Canadian officials are ignoring Amnesty’s report, focusing instead on economic aspects of the deal.

“International trade is critical to our economic recovery,” said Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan in a press release. “As we move beyond stimulus spending and diversify opportunities for Canadian business abroad, this free trade agreement will help Canadians prosper,” he said.

Van Loan’s comments come though there is little data supporting the notion that economic benefits will flow to Canadians as the result of an FTA with Colombia.

The Canada-Colombia deal will open market access for certain Canadian commodities, flooding the Colombian market with Canadian wheat, barley and other grains. The key provisions of the deal relate to the security of Canadian investments in the mining and oil and gas sector.

The agreement, which was being fast-tracked in parliament as Bill C-23, was sidelined when Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued parliament. Critics of the Canada-Colombia FTA are urging Micheal Ignatieff, the leader of the official opposition, to vote against the deal, now dubbed C-2, in parliament.

“Ignatieff has only one choice if he truly cares about human rights and democracy, and that’s to keep the Colombia free trade agreement off the parliamentary agenda until a human rights impact assessment can be carried out,” said Stuart Trew, the trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians.

Unfortunatly, the Liberals have wavered in their opposition to the deal, straying from an election promise by former leader Stépane Dion that they wouldn’t sign off on the deal until the human rights situation in Colombia improved.

“Far from creating a legitimate economy, as Liberal MPs have been suggesting in defence of the Colombia free trade agreement, the deal before Parliament would increase the chances that Canadian companies invested in agriculture, mining and resource extraction in sensitive areas will be doing business with murderers, drug traffickers and arms smugglers,” said Trew in a press release.

News of the tabling of the agreement comes together with the newest gruesome figures relating to murders of union members last year. Colombia’s National Labour School reports that 45 unionists were killed in 2009.

“In the face of these serious, ongoing abuses it is unacceptable that Ottawa would even be talking to the Colombian government, let alone fast-tracking an agreement,” said Paul Moist, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, in a press release.

In February, Amnesty spokesperson Kathy Price said the situation of Indigenous peoples in Colombia is nothing short of an emergency. At least 114 Indigenous people were murdered last year, while thousands more were subject to threats, abuse, torture and displacement.

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