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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.

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

Georgetown University Welcomes Colombia’s Ex-Pres. Uribe September 7, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Education, Human Rights, Latin America, Religion.
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Published on Tuesday, September 7, 2010 by CommonDreams.orgby John Dear

Next week on September 14th, thirteen friends and I will stand trial at the Nevada State Courthouse along the Las Vegas strip. Our infraction? Daring to walk on to Creech Air Force Base, headquartered in the Nevada desert, last year on Holy Thursday. We entered the premises to prayerfully call for an end to the U.S. drone fighter bombers.
 
Alas, our call was rejected, and after a tense stand-off with soldiers at the gate, the police arrived and arrested, handcuffed, chained, booked and held us in the Las Vegas jail for the night. Then in March, the government pressed charges against us, hoping to set an example of us and stop others from protesting our “drones.” So the struggle goes on.
 
Meantime, while preparing for trial, I received news of the latest church scandal, this brought on by the Jesuits themselves. Georgetown University has offered the former president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, a dictator with blood on his hands, a teaching post at its Walsh School of Foreign Service as its “Distinguished Scholar in the Practice of Global Leadership.” He begins work tomorrow.
 
Apparently, neither the university president nor the faculty nor the Jesuits have been apprised that lawyers are working to bring charges against him at the Hague for human rights violations. Indeed, GU, an ostensibly Christian university, might just as well have invited Marcos, or Somoza or Liberia’s Charles Taylor to teach. Seems to me, inviting Uribe shows how stone deaf GU is to the times. More, it is a complete betrayal of the Gospel of Jesus. The Jesuit mission is summed up this way: “to promote the faith that does justice.” Hiring Uribe shows how much, here in the U.S., the Jesuit mission has become bankrupt. At Georgetown, it’s “the faith that does injustice and makes war.”
 
I shouldn’t be surprised. Georgetown in particular has a long history of supporting U.S. warmaking. It has taken millions from the Pentagon, trained thousands of young Catholics how to kill (in its ROTC program), hired Henry Kissinger, welcomed the person who ordered the assassination of Romero, and supported warmakers from the Shah of Iran to Ronald Reagan.
 
My friends and I have a long history too–of speaking out. When I lived and worked at GU in the early 1980s, setting up the “D.C. Schools Project,” ROTC drilled right under my window in the Jesuit community, so I took my case to the university president himself, then Tim Healy, and exchanged a few heated words with him about GU’s collaboration with the U.S. war machine—a discussion he took none too kindly to. He responded by pulling strings to have me dismissed from the Jesuits. (Providentially, I was spared.)
 
So there’s history between us, the university and I. Still, I’m shocked. After years of campaigning to close the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, which these days predominantly trains Colombia’s military officers and soldiers who then participate with paramilitary death squads in killing and torturing tens of thousands of poor people in the last few years alone, I would expect the president, faculty, and Jesuits of Georgetown to know better.
 
“We are looking forward to having President Uribe join our university community,” GU President John DeGioia said recently in a statement. “Having such a distinguished world leader at Georgetown will further the important work of students and faculty engaging in important global issues.”
 
Is this his idea of a world leader? With so many heroes of peace and nonviolence to invite—from Archbishop Tutu to Mairead Maguire, or leaders here at home such as Kathy Kelly and Jim Wallis—I’m stunned that he can look forward to the arrival of one of the world’s most notorious mass murderers. Is this the kind of global leadership Georgetown teaches?
 
“President Uribe will bring a truly unique perspective to discussions of global affairs at Georgetown,” said Carol Lancaster, dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service. “We are thrilled that he has identified Georgetown as a place where he will share his knowledge and interface with Washington, and I know that our students at the School of Foreign Service will benefit greatly from his presence.”
 
Friends and I have urged Georgetown’s leaders to disinvite Uribe, and have also begun a campaign to protest his presence. I personally asked Dean Lancaster on the phone to do everything she can to prevent Uribe’s arrival. To my chagrin, most everyone I speak with at Georgetown seems to know little about Colombia or Uribe, and refers to the State Department’s respect for him.
 
I say this without hyperbole—that should have been their first warning.
 
We all need to learn about Uribe’s 8-year tenure in Colombia, his corruption, the human-rights violations he sponsored, the widespread impunity—all with the backing of the Bush Administration. Human Rights Watch recently issued an open letter listing some of the human rights violations of the Uribe administration:

• More than 4 million Colombians (out of a population of about 45 million) have been forced to flee their homes, giving Colombia the second-largest population of internally displaced persons in the world after Sudan.
 
• More than 70 members of the Colombian Congress are under criminal investigation or have been convicted for allegedly collaborating with the paramilitaries. Nearly all these congresspersons are members of President Uribe’s coalition in Congress, and the Uribe administration repeatedly undermined the investigations and discredited the Supreme Court justices who started them.
 
• Colombia has the highest rate of killings of trade unionists in the world.
 
• A clandestine gravesite of 2,000 non-identified bodies was recently discovered directly beside a military base in La Macarena, in central Colombia. When the news became public, Uribe flew to the Macarena and said publicly that accusing the armed forces of human rights abuses was a tactic used by the guerrilla. These comments put the lives of those victims who spoke at the event in grave danger.
 
• Starting in 2008, reports came out that the Colombian military was luring poor young men from their homes with promises of employment, then killing them and presenting them as combat casualties. The practice not only served to stack battle statistics, but also financially benefited the soldiers involved, as Uribe’s government had, since 2005, awarded monetary and vacation bonuses for each insurgent killed. Human rights groups cite 3,000 or more “false positives.”

Georgetown’s appointment of Uribe is “shameful,” Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino said last week in El Salvador. “Uribe is a symbol of the worst that has happened in the tragic conflict in Colombia. There is a great deal of blood involved here, a very great deal. ”
 
“Does this appointment reflect the mission and the Catholic and Jesuit identity of Georgetown?” Fr. Dean Brackley, a Jesuit professor at the UCA in El Salvador, writes. “This will, literally, cause scandal. The U.S. Congress has held up passage of the trade agreement with Colombia because it is a place where the government, under Uribe, has consistently failed to defend labor unionists from death squads. Uribe is widely accused of having had direct links to the paramilitary groups who have massacred countless innocents. Whether or not those charges are true, he has irresponsibly and cruelly accused human rights activists in Colombia of collusion with ‘Communist terrorists,’ endangering their lives.”
 
A few years ago, I traveled to Colombia to see for myself. There I learned about the U.S.-backed war against the poor waged by Uribe under the guise of a “war on drugs.” I learned how the repressive Colombian government, under the democratically elected but dictatorial President Uribe, a drug benefactor and close friend of George W. Bush, killed some ten thousand people a year, leaving 200,000 dead in the last twenty years. This war isn’t about drugs but about expropriating Colombia’s rich land and natural resources, from the indigenous people to the U.S. and multinational corporations.

In Bogota, Colombia, I met one of the world’s leading voices for human rights, Fr. Javier Giraldo, a Jesuit priest whose institute has documented all the killings and massacres in Colombia. For his efforts, he’s suffered countless death threats, especially under the Uribe regime. Last week, my friend Fr. Giraldo wrote to me about the situation, and I share his letter here, so we can all learn about Colombia and the disgrace of Georgetown’s hiring of Uribe:

“I write to you with great concern regarding the fact that Georgetown, our Jesuit University, has hired the outgoing president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe, as a professor. I am constantly receiving messages from individuals and groups who have suffered enormously during his term as president. They are protesting and questioning the mind-set of our Society, or its lack of ethical judgment in making a decision of this kind.
 
It is possible that decision makers at Georgetown have received positive appraisals from Colombians in high political or economic positions, but it is difficult to ignore, at least, the intense moral disagreements aroused by his government and the investigations and sanctions imposed by international organizations that try to protect human dignity. The mere fact that, during his political career, while he was governor of Antioquia Province (1995-1997) he founded and protected so many paramilitary groups, known euphemistically as “Convivir” (“Live Together”), who murdered and “disappeared” thousands of people and displaced multitudes, committing many other atrocities, that alone would imply a need for moral censure before entrusting him with any responsibility in the future.
 
But not only did he continue to sponsor those paramilitary groups, but he defended them and he perfected them into a new pattern of legalized para-militarism, including networks of informants, networks of collaborators, and the new class of private security companies that involve some millions of civilians in military activities related to the internal armed conflict, while at the same time he was lying to the international community with a phony demobilization of the paramilitaries.
 
In addition, the scandalous practice of “false positives” took place during his administration. The practice consists in murdering civilians, usually farmers, and after killing them, dressing them as combatants in order to justify their deaths. That is the way he tried to demonstrate faked military victories over the rebels and also to eliminate the activists in social movements that work for justice.
 
The corruption during his administration was more than scandalous, not just because of the presence of drug traffickers in public positions but also because the Congress and many government offices were occupied by criminals. Today more than a hundred members of Congress are involved in criminal proceedings, all of them President Uribe’s closest supporters.
 
The purchase of consciences in order to manipulate the judicial apparatus was disgraceful. It ended up destroying, at the deepest level, the moral conscience of the country. Another disgrace was the corrupt manner in which the Ministers closest to him manipulated agricultural policy in order to favor the very rich with public money, meanwhile impeding and stigmatizing social projects. The corruption of his sons, who enriched themselves by using the advantages of power, scandalized the whole country at one time.
 
In addition, he used the security agency that was directly under his control (the Department of Administrative Security) to spy on the courts, on opposition politicians, and on social and human rights movements, by means of clandestine telephone tapping. The corrupt machinations he used to obtain his re-election as President in 2006 were sordid in the extreme, with the result that ministers and close collaborators have gone to jail.
 
He manipulated the coordination between the Army and the paramilitary groups that resulted in 14,000 extrajudicial executions during his term of office. His strategies of impunity for those who, through the government or the “para-government,” committed crimes against humanity will go down in history for their brazenness.
 
The decision by the Jesuits at Georgetown to offer a professorship to Álvaro Uribe is not only deeply offensive to those Colombians who still maintain moral principles, but also places at high risk the ethical development of the young people who attend our university in Washington. Where are the ethics of the Society of Jesus?”

Javier’s closing question leaves me trembling. For years, many of us, including Jesuits and Georgetown students, have protested the U.S. government’s training of tens of thousands of Colombian soldiers at Fort Benning’s “School of the Americas,” derided by the more prophetic among us as the “School of the Assassins.” With the hiring of Colombia’s former president who commanded those death squads, now Georgetown itself has become the “School of the Assassins.” A kind of SOA Adjunct, Mid-Atlantic.
 
I urge people everywhere to call or write Georgetown University’s president and protest Uribe’s presence on campus, and to push Georgetown to cut its ties with dictators, warmakers and the Pentagon. For further information, visit the School of the Americas website at www.soaw.org and the Colombia Support Network at www.colombiasupport.net.
 
As I head to Las Vegas for trial, I grieve that our struggle to end war and injustice is so often stymied by the church itself, and in this case, my own religious order. But I’m heartened by the reaction of so many people, and the organizing that has sprung up around this scandal. I hope someday Georgetown University, and every Jesuit and Catholic institution, will become a school of justice, nonviolence, and human rights.

John Dear is a Jesuit priest, peace activist, and author of twenty five books on peace and nonviolence. His latest book, Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings (Orbis), is now available, as well as John Dear On Peace: An Introduction to His Life and Work by Patricia Normile. John’s other recent books include, A Persistent Peace (his autobiography, from Loyola Press), and Put Down Your Sword, (Eerdmans) a collection of essays on nonviolence.  He writes a weekly column for the National Catholic Reporter at www.ncronline.org. To follow the trial of the Creech 14, go to www.vcnv.org. To contribute to Catholic Relief Services’ “Fr. John Dear Haiti Fund,” go to: http://donate.crs.org/goto/fatherjohn. For further information, or to schedule a lecture or retreat on Gospel Nonviolence, go to www.johndear.org.

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