Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
Tags: afl-cio, Colombia, colombia assassination, colombia free trade, colombia labor, colombia unions, colombia violence, Free Trade, human rights, labor, labour, trade unions, worker rights
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.”
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Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Cuba, Drugs, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
Tags: Colombia, colombia labor, core values, cuba blockade, cuba embargo, decriminalization, foreign policy, Free Trade, history, juan manuel santos, Latin America, leon panetta, peter king, roger hollander, secret service, secret service scandal, sex scandal, vietnam brothels, Vietnam War, war on drugs
John Grant, opednews.com, April 20, 2012
Whore: (verb) To debase oneself by doing something for unworthy motives, typically to make money. -The New Oxford American Dictionary
It’s a challenge to make adult sense of the absurdities coming out of Colombia right now.
I had first planned to write about the Drug War aspect of President Obama’s summit meeting in Cartagena, since it’s quite amazing when the right-wing president of Colombia publicly lobbies the US president to shift the Drug War from military operations against supply in Latin America to a more social approach against demand in the US. After all, Colombia is the highly militarized US showcase nation in the 40-year Drug War.
“Despite all of the efforts, the immense efforts, the huge costs, we have to recognize that the illicit drug business is prospering,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told the attending leaders. He even advocated a process of decriminalization, though he recognized this was only a “starting point to begin a discussion that we have been postponing for far too long.”
This is real news.
Our Drug War is a military/police enterprise focused on attacking the supply of drugs coming from Latin America. Santos seems to concede it’s a dismal failure. He also knows the accumulated conditions of that failure are so entrenched in the hemisphere that it’s hard to even begin to discuss a way out.
Presidents Santos and Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Havana Club in Cartagena by unknown
Barack Obama’s administration is so cowed by entrenched, die-hard drug warriors that it’s doubling down on marijuana busts as local governments across the nation go the other way and ease enforcement of marijuana laws. The Feds are like fundamentalist puritans who see the decriminalization of marijuana as the social equivalent of a “gateway drug” leading to crack-addict Hell. There’s a desperate need for a much more pragmatic approach.
Besides the call from our Latin American neighbors for a more sane, demand-oriented approach to international drug problems, there was an equally consensus-driven call for the US to drop its aggressive and counter-productive 50-year embargo of Cuba.
Here’s the right-wing Santos again on lifting the embargo on Cuba: “There is no justification for that path that has anchored us in a Cold War. … It is the hour to overcome the paralysis produced by ideological stubbornness.” As expected, President Obama remained mired in the “ideological stubbornness” of the Florida Cuban vote.
When it came to approving a labor agreement with Colombia, Obama was in total agreement with the rightist Santos. It did not matter that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had lobbied hard against the agreement, citing killings of trade unionists and other human rights abuses. Trumka responded by saying, “We regret that the administration has placed commercial interests above the interests of workers and trade unions.”
Back in 1984, I was deported from Honduras for sitting down with union leaders who shared with me and friends a litany of murders and rights abuses against trade unionists. That was during the Contra War. It seems little has changed in 28 years. Capital and profits always trump unions and the human rights of workers.
The “escort” who set off the scandal and US Secret Service agents by unknown
It’s quite revealing that while profound historical discussions during the summit focused on reforming the Drug War, lifting the outmoded Cold War embargo of Cuba and violent abuses of trade unionists, that the really big story to come out of Cartagena is that US Secret Service agents and military security officers purchased sex.
And who is thumping the scandal? None other than Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and the greatest War On Terror whore in America.
The heavy breathing soon began. Could any of the ladies contracted from the Pley Club brothel have been al Qaeda agents? How was the President’s safety affected? How much of a black mark was it on the honor of the United States? Whose heads would have to roll?
Reality Versus Distraction
Meanwhile, back in Realityland, Latin America was in the midst of a major, future-oriented economic correction with the dynamic Brazil on the leading edge. The requests for the US to reform its Drug War and to lift the embargo on Cuba were in fact part of that greater dialogue, a dialogue that includes questions about energizing the middle and lower classes into a consumer engine that can lift all economic boats across the continent.
This is a deadly theme in 2012 in America. So it’s not surprising to see a ridiculous scandal pop up to distract Americans from the real issues. As was accomplished following World War Two, the US economy needs to rebuild its working and middle classes, and the only way to do that is to break the cycle of entrenched, right-leaning wealth. It’s a major epochal struggle in Latin America, as it should be in the United States. It was one of the big stories that should have come out of the summit, and instead we get distractions about agents and whores.
It’s a story about high-powered, red-blooded American men in an exotic location erotically fueled by the myth of American Exceptionalism; actually it’s one of the oldest stories in the annals of colonialism and imperialism. And it naturally involves the oldest profession, in this case, savvy Colombian entrepreneurs after top-dollar profits.
The weak link in all this apparently was an inebriated Secret Service agent who didn’t speak enough Spanish to understand the perfectly legal business contract he was engaging in. The 24-year-old woman offering her services to this gentleman is very beautiful, and she emphasized to The New York Times that she was not a prostitute or a whore; she was an “escort.” The marketing line for such expensive escorts is that a client is paying for class and, most important, discretion.
There would have been no scandal if the man had paid his bill. Failure to fulfill a legal contract amounts to theft of services. Thus the wronged woman went to the police, and the police, in turn, did their duty and took up the woman’s case against the US agent. Sex had nothing to do with the scandal; it was a contractual arrangement gone awry. The man might as well have been refusing to pay for a haircut.
One of the themes being voiced in this scandal is that a matter of national and military honor is at stake, that it’s a violation of our “core values.” It’s the same distracting note of concern we hear from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta when soldiers in Afghanistan photograph themselves grinning like geeks holding up the blown apart legs of a suicide bomber. Panetta said what these men did was “not worthy of our core values.”
So exactly what are our “core values” in this scandal? First, it has to be recognized that these so-called core values are generally expressed in the realm of public relations to respond to some embarrassment. It’s a sad fact of our times that our real values are those expressed in the realm of secrecy where most of US foreign and military policy unfolds. Real values are how we really operate — not how we envision ourselves.
Whoring in Vietnam
Back in 1966, I was a red-blooded 19-year-old kid in Vietnam serving my country as a radio direction finder. My job was to locate the enemy, which generally consisted of Vietnamese kids fighting to force me and 500,000 other Americans from their land. I located these young soldiers so Air Force F4 Phantoms could incinerate them into charred corpses.
When I wasn’t hunting Vietnamese radio operators, I spent a lot of time in Pleiku at the many brothel-bars that catered to kids like me engorged with the myth of American Exceptionalism. For me, Vietnamese girls were the most beautiful creatures on Earth. As an American soldier, I was drawing a salary, plus $65-a-month combat pay for being in Vietnam. There were many thousands more just like me.
Money burned a hole in our pockets, and prostitution was everywhere, in bars and in every little laundry beside the road. It was the juicy entrepreneurial receptacle for the arrogant, imperial engine that drove the war itself. Eventually, to control VD, the Fourth Division actually oversaw its own brothel-bars just outside the base camp in Pleiku.
At these bars, one was presented with an assortment of energetic and lovely child-women willing and eager to share their most intimate physical pleasures for five dollars. I was an armed young male propagandized with a sense of superiority suddenly presented with pliant young girls who wanted my money, of which I had more than I knew what to do with.
I’m now, of course, thoroughly ashamed of myself and mention the experience here only to shed a little light on the notion of Americans buying sex in foreign lands. My shame is intricately tied to the war and the fact I was paying a pittance for these girls’ services; they were there only because they were poor and because we were wrecking their country. It wasn’t the prostitution that was shameful or dishonorable; it was the wrecking, the exploitation and the larger, collective shame for the war itself and the massive amounts of killing and destruction it entailed against the Vietnamese people.
This kind of misplaced dishonor is part of the “core values” cited in the Secret Service scandal. Something is wrong when individual sexual peccadilloes become a more serious matter for public shame than collective actions like a disastrous and violent 40-year Drug War and a misguided 50-year embargo of a tiny island nation. Add in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the new doctrine of special operations assassination teams and lethal drones and the “scandal” of a few agents paying for consensual sex becomes laughable. Our wars are the real scandal.
Colombia and other Latin American nations have decriminalized prostitution and they now seem inclined to do the same for drugs. This has been the reality in places like Amsterdam for some time. Reasonable people have to wonder when the professed “core values” of American Puritanism will allow the same kinds of reform and evolution to occur in the United States. So far, the forces of obstruction and distraction have the upper hand.
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.”
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.
Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Drugs, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
Tags: coca far, Colombia, colombia cocaine, colombia drugs, colombia government, colombia labor, colombia unions, drugs, Free Trade, jess hunter-bowman, Latin America, NAFTA, omg.human rights, roger hollander, us-colombia, war on drugs
There’s only one Colombian industry that can potentially employ workers who would lose their job in the wake of a free trade deal.
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
Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Colombia, Latin America.
Tags: Amnesty International, Canada, Colombia, colombia labor, daw, dawn paley, democracy, Free Trade, human rights, labour, Michael Ignatieff, roger hollander, Stephen Harper
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.