jump to navigation

Rights Group: Little Progress in Stemming Killings of Colombian Trade Unionists October 4, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment
Published on Tuesday, October 4, 2011 by Associated Press

Trade Pacts Move Forward, But Colombia Still UnSafe for Unionists

BOGOTA, Colombia — A new study challenges claims from the administration of President Barack Obama that Colombia is making important strides in bringing to justice killers of labor activists and so deserves U.S. congressional approval of a long-stalled free trade pact.

US President Barack Obama meets with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, on April 7, 2011. Yesterday Obama submitted three trade pacts to Congress despite continued concerns about their impact on the US economy and human rights violations in Colombia. (Reuters)

The Human Rights Watch study found “virtually no progress” in getting convictions for killings that have occurred in the past 4 1/2 years.

It counted just six convictions obtained by a special prosecutions unit from 195 slayings between January 2007 and May 2011, with nearly nine in 10 of the unit’s cases from that period in preliminary stages with no suspect formally identified.

Democrats in the U.S. Congress have long resisted bringing the Colombia trade pact to a vote, citing what they said is insufficient success in halting such killings.

The White House disagrees, and says Colombia has made significant progress in addressing anti-unionist violence.

US President Barack Obama sent long-stalled free trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress and pressed lawmakers to approve them “without delay.” Republicans endorse the bill overall and say it will increase U.S. exports by $13 billion a year and support tens of thousands of jobs.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk recently said the trade agreements are “an integral part of the President’s plan to create jobs here at home.”

But in Colombia, the world’s most lethal country for labor organizing, the killings haven’t stopped. At least 38 trade unionists have been slain since President Juan Manuel Santos took office in August 2010, says Colombia’s National Labor School.

“A major reason for this ongoing violence has been the chronic lack of accountability for cases of anti-union violence,” Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent last Thursday to Colombian Chief Prosecutor Viviane Morales that details the study’s findings.

Convictions have been obtained for less than 10 percent of the 2,886 trade unionists killed since 1986, and the rights group said it found “severe shortcomings” in the work of a special unit of Morales’ office established five years ago to solve the slayings. The letter says the unit has demonstrated “a routine failure to adequately investigate the motive” in labor killings as well as to “bring to justice all responsible parties.”

A chief finding: The 74 convictions achieved over the past year owe largely to plea bargains with members of illegal far-right militias who confessed to killings in exchange for leniency.

They did so under the so-called Justice and Peace law that gave paramilitary fighters reduced prison sentences of up to eight years in exchange for laying down their arms and confessing to crimes. That law expired at the end of 2006, the year the free trade pact was signed.

Only in a handful of cases did prosecutors pursue evidence that the paramilitaries who confessed acted on the orders of politicians, employers or others, Human Rights Watch says.

Prosecutors “made virtually no progress in prosecuting people who order, pay, instigate or collude with paramilitaries in attacking trade unionists,” the letter states. “What is at stake is the justice system’s ability to act as an effective deterrent to anti-union violence.”

Of the more than 275 convictions handed down through May, 80 percent were against former members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC. The head of international affairs in the chief prosecutor’s office, Francisco Echeverri, told the AP that it has put 513 people in prison.

In nearly half of 50 recent convictions reviewed by Human Rights Watch, the judges cited “evidence pointing to the involvement of members of the security forces or intelligence services, politicians, landowners, bosses or co-workers.” Yet in only one of those cases was such an individual convicted.

In the case of a gym teacher and union activist killed in the northwestern town of San Rafael in 2002, one of the paramilitaries who confessed to the crime said it was committed at the request of the mayor, according to the judge’s decision.

The man who was mayor at the time and was re-elected in 2008, Edgar Eladio Giraldo, is not being formally investigated and has not been questioned about the killing, said Hernando Castaneda, chief of the special unit.

“I have no knowledge of that and did not know that I was involved in that,” Giraldo told The Associated Press by telephone when asked about the killing of Julio Ernesto Ceballos.

A spokeswoman for Chief Prosecutor Morales said Sunday that her boss had not yet yet seen the Human Rights Watch letter.

Dan Kovalik of the United Steel Workers said the study’s findings and the continued killings “prove what labor is telling the White House: The labor rights situation in Colombia is not improving, and passage of the FTA is not appropriate.”

A memo soon to be released by the AFL-CIO deems Colombia noncompliant with the “Labor Action Plan” Santos and Obama agreed to in April as a condition for White House approval of the free trade pact.

In the memo, shown to the AP, the labor federation finds neither “economic, political, or moral justification for rewarding Colombia with a free trade agreement.”

Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Nkenge Harmon said Friday when presented with the study’s findings that Colombia’s record prosecuting “perpetrators of violence” against labor activists “has improved significantly,” though she added that Colombian officials acknowledge more needs to be done.

Harmon also stressed that additional Colombian resources are being dedicated to the issue and that the U.S. government “is working intensively with them through training and support.”

Human Rights Watch acknowledged that annual trade unionists killings are only a quarter of what they were a decade ago. And it applauded some measures taken by Chief Prosecutor Morales, including her announcement that an additional 100 police investigators would be assigned to the special investigative unit.

But HRW regional director Jose Miguel Vivanco said “the challenge (Morales) is facing remains huge.”

A U.S. congressman who has met with various Colombian presidents on human rights issues, Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, doesn’t think enough has been done to reverse what he called a “dismal” record.

Said McGovern: “My worry is that if you approve the FTA at this particular point you remove all the pressure off the powers that be in Colombia to actually make a sincere, honest and concerted attempt to improve the situation.”

Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera and Libardo Cardona contributed to this report.

© 2011 Associated Press

Banksters on the War Path: How Wall Street Is Fighting Back and Winning Their Fight for the Status Quo May 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

by Danny Schechter

Dick Durbin knows his way around the Senate. He’s been there a long time, long enough to know how things really work. Over the years, the man from Illinois has come to realize that it’s not the elected officials who are in charge. Last week, he said it was the bankers “who run the place” acknowledging that Senators may be in office, but not necessarily in power.

Usually, the people who pull the strings stay in the background to avoid too much public exposure. They rely on lobbyists to do their bidding. They prefer to work in the shadows. They may back certain politicians, but coming from a world of credit default swaps as they do, they hedge their bets by putting money on all the horses.

They have so much influence because they have been reengineering the American economy for decades through “financialization,” a process by which banks and financial institutions gradually came to dominate economic and political decision-making. Kevin Phillips, a one time Reagan advisor and commentator, says our deepest problem is “the ascendancy of finance in national policymaking (as well as in the gross domestic product), and the complicity of politicians who really don’t want to talk about it.”

Curiously, despite the journalists like Bill Moyers and Arianna Huffington who have been blowing the whistle on the role of the “banksters” in our political life, criticizing the Republicans and Democrats who deregulated the financial system, this issue seems to float above the heads of most of the public, much of the press, and even the activist community more drawn to punishing the torture inflicted on a few by a former Administration than the economic duress being imposed on the majority of Americans by a minority of the super rich.

Demonstrators are still drawn more to the White House than the banks that have proliferated on every corner of the country.

Last week, a Zogby poll found that a majority of the public believes the press made things worse by reporting on the economic collapse. Not only is that blaming the messenger, it also overlooks the fact that much of the media was complicit in the crisis by not covering the forces that caused the collapse when it might have done some good.

Exacerbating the problem is that the Obama Administration has, in Robert Scheer’s words, enlisted “the very experts who helped trigger the crisis to try to fix it.”

“Obama,” he writes “seems depressingly reliant on the same-old, same old cast of self-serving house wreckers who act as if government exists for the sole benefit of corporations and executives.”

The team of Tim Geithner and Larry Summers has been carrying Wall Street’s water as Robert Rubin did before them. No wonder that Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder told the Street last February, “We’re not going to go on any witch hunts.”

That was before we learned that Wall Street forced US regulators to delay the release of stress test results for the country’s 19 biggest banks until next Thursday, because some of the lenders objected to government demands that they needed to raise more capital. They are trying to rig the results.

That was also before the public learned of the obscenely huge bonuses the firms benefiting from the TARP bailout were shelling out to their executives. That was before we saw how the bankers with help from Democrats, including new convert Arlen Specter, managed to kill a bill to help homeowners stop foreclosures.

“The Senate on Thursday rejected an effort to stave off home foreclosures by a vote of 51 to 45. It was an overwhelming defeat, with the bill’s backers falling 15 votes short — a quarter of the Democratic caucus — of the 60 needed to cut off debate and move to a final vote. Across the United States, the measure is estimated to have been able to prevent 1.69 million foreclosures and preserve $300 billion in home equity.”

Commented the Center for Responsible Lending, “Instead of defending ordinary Americans, the majority of Senators went with the banks. Yes, the same banks who have benefited so richly from the TARP bailout.”

There was one small victory with the House approving a bill to protect consumers from credit card abuses. It’s not clear if the Senate will pass it too. “It’s one step forward and one step backward,” said Travis Plunkett, of the Consumer Federation of America. “Congress is moving in fits and starts to re-regulate the financial services industry and the banking lobby still has tremendous clout.”

“Tremendous clout” is an understatement.

In this past week, we also saw how a few hedge funds undermined the attempt to save Chrysler from bankruptcy by holding out for more money even after the unions and big banks agreed to compromise to save jobs.

The President was furious but apparently powerless: “A group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout,” Obama said. “They were hoping that everybody else would make sacrifices, and they would have to make none. Some demanded twice the return that other lenders were getting.”

Explains the blog Naked Capitalism, “the banksters are eagerly, shamelessly, and openly harvesting their pound of flesh from financially stressed average taxpayers, and setting off a chain reaction in the auto industry which has the very real risk of creating even larger scale unemployment than the economy already faces. It’s reckless, utterly irresponsible, over-the-top greed.”

Will they be allowed to get away with it? A “captured” Congress is doing their bidding. There is no doubt that class antagonism is stewing, says the editor of the blog. He expressed a fear of a reaction that will go way beyond flag-wavng tea parties.

“… I am concerned this behavior is setting the stage for another sort of extra-legal measure: violence. I have been amazed at the vitriol directed at the banking classes. Suggestions for punishment have included the guillotine (frequent), hanging, pitchforks, even burning at the stake. Tar and feathering appears inadequate, and stoning hasn’t yet surfaced as an idea. And mind you, my readership is educated, older, typically well-off (even if less so than three years ago). The fuse has to be shorter where the suffering is more acute.”

One is reminded of the title of that movie, “There will be blood.” Rather than show contrition or compassion for its own victims, Wall Street is hoping to jack up its salaries and bonuses to pre-2007 levels. The men at the top are oblivious to the pain they helped cause. And so far, they’ve only occasionally been scolded by politicians that have mostly enabled, coddled, bankrolled, funded, rewarded, and genuflected to their power.

Wall Street’s behavior may be predictable, but how can we account for the silence of so many organizations that should be out there organizing the outrage that is building? Knock, Knock, Obama supporters, bloggers, trade unionists, out of work workers and fellow Americans. Will we fight back or roll over?

Pitchforks anyone?

Mediachannel’s News Dissector Danny Schechter is making a film about Wall Street based on his book Plunder (newsdissector.com/plunder). Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org 

Colombia Confirms It Cannot Meet Necessary FTA Prerequisites; Death Squads on Rise December 20, 2008

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

Dan Kovalik, December 4, 2008

www.huffingtonpost.com

(UPDATED) In his final debate with John McCain, President-elect Barack Obama made it clear why he opposed passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) – because of the problem with union assassinations in Colombia (still the highest in the world) and because the Colombian government has failed to investigate and prosecute those killings. This statement echoed Speaker Nancy Pelosi who, just last year, set forth the yard marks which were necessary for consideration for the Colombia FTA – namely, “concrete and sustained” results in dealing with continued violence against trade unionists, impunity and the role of paramilitary groups in that violence.

2008-12-04-fernandoboteromasacre.jpg
Fernando Botero, “Masacre”

On the issue of impunity, the Colombian government has successfully investigated and prosecuted around only 3% of the almost 2700 union killings since 1986, resulting in an impunity rate of 97%. And, recently, the Colombian Office of the Attorney General confirmed that this impunity rate will not be appreciably lowered.

Indeed, as Human Rights Watch recently explained in a letter to Nancy Pelosi, Congressman George Miller and Congressman Charles Rangel, “[t]he Office of the Attorney General reports that as of October 20, the specialized prosecutors unit is only reviewing a total of 1,272 cases involving anti-union violence – including both threats and killings (even though nearly all of the 2,685 reported killings and more than 3,700 threats remain unresolved).” (emphasis added).

In short, impunity will not decrease very much in Colombia because the Colombian government, by its own admission, is not even looking into the vast majority of anti-union violence cases. This is an incredible admission by the Colombian government given its continued full-court press for passage of the Colombia FTA. This admission should finally end Colombia’s chances at passage of the FTA, at least so long as Barack Obama is President and Nancy Pelosi is Speaker of the House.

What’s more, the other key issue blocking passage of the FTA – ongoing anti-union violence – continues to be a big problem. As Human Rights Watch noted in its same letter, “[a]fter dropping to 39 last year, the number of killings has increased once again in 2008. Through October, 41 trade unionists have been reported killed, compared with 33 through October 2007. More than 150 unionists have reported being threatened so far this year.”

Addressing Speaker Pelosi’s third concern about continued paramilitary violence in Colombia, particularly against trade unionists, Human Rights Watch makes it clear that this problem remains grim and is actually getting worse. Indeed, as Human Rights Watch noted, while there was some temporary abating of paramilitary violence as a result of the demobilization which accompanied the “Justice and Peace” process, the paramilitaries are now re-mobilizing. As Human Rights Watch explained, “new armed groups often led by mid-level paramilitary commanders have cropped up all over the country. The Organization of American States (OAS) Mission verifying the demobilizations has identified 22 such groups, totaling thousands of members. The groups are actively recruiting new troops and are committing widespread abuses, including extortion, killings, and forced displacement.”

These conclusions about the paramilitary resurgence in Colombia were just reinforced by a Dec. 5, 2008, L.A. Times article by Chris Kraul, entitled, “Paramilitary groups still spread terror among Colombia’s people.” This article concluded that, in spite of President Uribe’s denial of the existence of any paramilitarism in Colombia, there are as many as 100 new paramilitary “gangs” in Colombia, “including as many as 10,000 fighters.” As this article reports, the rise of these new death squads is “creating an enormous catastrophe” with massive new displacements of people, adding to the already almost 4 million internal refugees — the second largest in the world. According to the L.A. Times, the hyper-violent Black Eagles “may account for half of the newly emerged fighters.”

The strong re-emergence of the paramilitary death squads does not bode well for trade unionists, for as Colombia’s Office of the Attorney General reported in March of 2008, of all the persons convicted of killing unionists, 73% belonged to paramilitary groups.

Finally, the Colombian government continues to turn a blind eye to the participation of government officials and major corporations in the murder of unionists. As Human Rights Watch explained, the Colombian government has done little to investigate the credible allegation that Jorge Noguera, the former chief of Colombia’s DAS (the analogue of the FBI which has actually received U.S. monies to protect unionists) passed a hit list with the names of trade unionists to the paramilitaries with the intent that the paramilitaries carry out the assassination of said unionists.

Further, Human Rights Watch noted that the Colombian government has failed to abide by the order of a well-respected judge to investigate the role played by the Nestle Corporation in the murder of union leader Luciano Romero. The issue of such corporate responsibility in the murder of trade unionists continues even as Colombia, on December 6, commemorates the 80th anniversary of the massacre of striking banana workers in the town of Cienaga, Colombia at the behest of then United Fruit Company (now, Chiquita Banana, a company which has continued to fund atrocities in Colombia). This event inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s portrayal of the murder of banana workers in One Hundred Years of Solitude - a book I am told is the very favorite of none other than Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Sadly, this history of anti-union violence at the hands of elites in Colombia is repeated today on a regular basis. And, to put an end to this, Congress must continue its refusal to consider passage of the Colombia FTA.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 221 other followers