Tags: anti-union, Colombia, colombia kiillings, colombia paramilitaries, colombia violence, congress, Free Trade, human rights, jim mcgovern, juan manuel santos, labor, labor killings, Latin America, libardo cardona, roger hollander, trade pacts, trade unionists, unions, vivian sequera
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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.
Colombia: Uribe’s Former Intelligence Chief Sent to Prison September 21, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
Tags: alavro uribe, Colombia, colombia corruption, colombia das, colombia paramilitary, human rights, jorge noguera, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: The Colombian government under the presidency of Alvaro Uribe was the US number one ally in Latin America, with hundreds of millions of dollars poured into Plan Colombia and a free trade agreement to prop up his murderous regime. The evidence of the Uribe government’s complicity in terrorism and murder is finally coming out via the trials of Uribe’s highest level officials, as documented below. Uribe himself, like his counterparts in the Bush/Cheney regime that bolstered his position, appears to be beyond the arm of the law and justice. But unlike the cowardly Obama administration, Colombia’s justice system is in fact bringing justice at a high level. Would that the great Banana Republic to the North would have the same integrity.
Time to Stop the Real Reefer Madness September 17, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Criminal Justice, Drugs, Latin America, Mexico.
Tags: cocaine, drug addiiction, drug cartels, drug war, felipe calderon, harm reduction, laura carlsen, marijuana, medical marijuana, mexico drug wars, obama's drug war, plan colombia, reefer madness, roger hollander, war on drugs
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Since its inception, the War on Drugs has cost millions of dollars and thousands of lives. The civilians caught in the crossfire say it’s time for change.
- A still from the 1936 film, Reefer Madness.
In the 1930s, a church group commissioned a film “to strike fear in the hearts of young people tempted to smoke marijuana.” But it was not until the 1970s that Reefer Madness—billed as “the original classic that was not afraid to make up the truth” due to its grotesque portrayal of the supposed dangers of marijuana—obtained cult status.
After the scare tactics of the 1930s, U.S. marijuana policy varied depending on the political climate, even as scientific research consistently debunked extreme claims that the plant caused uncontrollable violent behavior, physical addiction, and insanity.
Then on June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon launched his signature “war on drugs.” The new crackdown on illegal drug use shifted the issue from a local health and public safety problem to a series of federal agencies under the direct control of the president. President Ronald Reagan later doubled down on the drug war, ushering in an age of mass incarceration.
The drug war model not only criminalized but also, like teh film before it, demonized illegal drug dealing and use—and the individuals involved—in moralistic and military terms. In many states, selling marijuana carried longer sentences than murder. Although the abuse of legal drugs now kills more people than illegal drugs, the architects of the drug war continues to promote the view that it is some inherent evil of the substance, rather than the way individuals and groups use it, that determines whether a drug is a threat to society or an accepted social custom.
Why Punish Pain?
A hit of compassion could keep drugs from becoming a crime problem.
The Drug Policy Alliance has revealed that U.S. authorities arrest some 800,000 people a year
for marijuana use. Two-thirds of those incarcerated in state prisons
for drug offenses are black or Hispanic, even though consumption rates
for whites are equal. Largely because of drug laws and draconian
enforcement, the United States has become the world champion in imprisoning its own people, often destroying the hopes and futures of its youth. The United States spends more than $51 billion a year on the domestic war on drugs alone.
Exporting the War
The export version of the drug war has an even darker side. It makes the implicit racism of the domestic war overt. Foreign drug lords are stereotypically portrayed as the root of an evil enterprise that, in fact, takes place mostly in the United States, where street sales generate the multibillion-dollar profits of the business. Under the guise of the drug war, the U.S. government has sponsored military responses in other countries that the Constitution prohibits domestically—for good reasons.
Attention is diverted from the social roots of drug abuse and addiction at home to a foreign threat to the American way of life—a way of life that, regardless of one’s moral beliefs, has always been characterized by the widespread use of mind-altering drugs. The false war model of good vs. evil, ally vs. enemy precludes many community-based solutions that have proven to be far more effective. U.S. taxpayers pay billions of dollars to fumigate foreign lands, pursue drug traffickers, and patrol borders as well as land and sea routes to intercept shipments.
None of this has worked. More than a decade and $8 billion into Plan Colombia, that Andean nation is the number-one cocaine producer in the world. Mexico has exploded into violence as the arrests and killings of cartel leaders spark turf battles that bathe whole regions in blood.
drugs directly responsible for the growing bloodshed in their country.
Last month, 52 people lost their lives in an attack on a casino in Monterrey, Mexico. The news shocked Mexico since it represents yet another escalation of violence, but it’s become almost routine alongside daily drug-war deaths. For U.S. citizens, it was further proof that Mexico is under an assault by organized crime.
According to some Mexican researchers, the sudden rise in violence in Mexico correlates directly to when President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown in the war on drugs by sending troops and federal police into the streets in 2006. Meanwhile, Mexican citizens have also taken to the streets to proclaim the war on drugs directly responsible for the growing bloodshed in their country and demand a change in strategy. Calderon has refused to consider alternative models.
Obama’s Drug-War Failure
This year the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report that concludes that “Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.”
Instead, the Obama administration has added fist and firepower to the drug wars. Ignoring 40 years of policy failure, Obama has broken campaign promises to seek a more humane and effective drug policy. His administration has failed to support international harm reduction models, reversed a decision not to
go after state medical marijuana regimes voted by popular referendums,
reaffirmed marijuana’s classification as a schedule 1 controlled
substance with no medical value, and expanded drug wars in Mexico and
The government reprehensibly continues to expand the failed drug war in the face of the budget crisis and drastic cutbacks in schools, healthcare, and basic social programs. A good example is the multimillion-dollar boondoggle called the “Merida Initiative.” Under this ill-conceived regional security cooperation measure, the United States sends intelligence and defense equipment and provides military and police training for Mexico and, to a lesser degree, Central American countries. This drug-war strategy has increased violence in Mexico and led to a severe deterioration in public safety, rule of law, and human rights. The resources go to Mexican security forces notorious for corruption and even complicity with organized crime.
Photo by Fronteras Desk
The results of the drug war in Mexico have been nothing short of catastrophic. Since it began, nearly 50,000 Mexicans have lost their lives in drug-war-related violence. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes, children have been orphaned and traumatized, men, and thousands have been kidnapped and still missing.
The attacks on cartels—including the killing or capture of leaders—spark turf wars that rage throughout Mexico, with the worst concentrated along the northern border. In response, some cartels have reorganized, with splinter groups frequently employing far more violent tactics than their parent organizations. Military operations have pushed the violence around the country in what experts call a “whack-a-mole” strategy that shows no signs of letting up.
The invented threat of reefer madness has been replaced with the real disaster of drug war madness—government perseverance with lethal and ineffective policies. The
drug war, with its exaggerated claims and mistaken focus on confronting
drug trafficking with police and military force, has cost the United States and its targeted suppliers like Colombia and Mexico millions of dollars and thousands of lives.
In Mexico, a peace movement has arisen against the drug war. It has opened up dialogue with the government but been met with an absolute refusal to consider other options. In the United States, drug-policy reform turns up at the top of lists of issues for town-hall discussions, but politicians dismiss the issue because it’s taboo or too risky for their political aspirations.
Policymakers must come to their senses regarding the madness of the drug-war strategy. If they don’t voluntarily propose reforms, then citizens will have to force them to do so.
What Now for a Post-Coup Honduras? May 19, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: alexander main, hondruas resistance, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras democracy, Hugo Chavez, human rights, imperialism, insulza, jose manuel santos, Latin America, latin america diplomacy, latin america politics, monroe doctrine, oas, porfirio lobo, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism, Venezuela, zelaya
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Many Latin America watchers were thrown for a loop last month when a bilateral meeting in Cartagena, Colombia between Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia suddenly metamorphosed into a trilateral encounter that included Porfirio Lobo, the controversial president of Honduras. It was hard enough grappling with the image of Chavez and Santos, considered to be arch-enemies only a year ago, slapping one another on the back and heralding warm relations between their countries. Now it appeared that Chavez had also warmed up to Lobo, the leader of a government that Venezuela and many other South American countries had refused to recognize since the coup of June 28, 2009 that toppled democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya.
Various media outlets were quick to suggest that, as a result of the friendly meeting, Chavez was prepared to back the return of Honduras to the Organization of American States (OAS). Since Venezuela had been the most outspoken critic of Honduras’ post-coup governments, it seemed conceivable that in no time the country would recover the seat that it had lost by unanimous decision of the OAS’ thirty-three members following the 2009 coup.
But soon more details emerged from the meeting that suggested that there were still significant hurdles ahead for Lobo. Chávez had not in fact agreed to support Honduras’ immediate return to the OAS. Instead the three leaders had drawn up a road map for Honduras’ possible return with the direct input of exiled former president Mel Zelaya, who was reached by phone during the meeting. As had occurred in previous negotiations, a series of conditions were put forward with the understanding that their fulfillment would open the door to OAS re-entry.
According to the Venezuelan government, four basic conditions, formulated primarily by Zelaya, were discussed during the closed-door meeting: the secure return of Zelaya and other officials exiled during and after the 2009 coup; an end to the persecution of members of the anti-coup National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP, by its Spanish initials); human rights guarantees and the investigation of human rights violations since the coup; guarantees for the holding of a future constituent assembly; and the recognition of the FNRP as a political organization. This set of conditions went further politically than the recommendations made in a July 2010 report by a High-Level OAS Commission in which Venezuela was notably absent and the U.S. and a number of right-wing Latin American countries played a dominant role. The report’s recommendations were meant to pave the way for Honduras’ return to the OAS, but appeared to be unacceptable to both Zelaya and the Lobo regime (see “Will new report pave the way for Honduras’ reincorporation into the OAS”.)
Though the trilateral meeting caused surprise and consternation – indeed, some groups in the FNRP expressed deep suspicions regarding the negotiations – it seems that it had been in the works for weeks and that President Zelaya had been consulted early on by representatives of the Colombian government. The fact that the sponsors of this new round of negotiations were the pro-Lobo government of Colombia and pro-Zelaya government of Venezuela generated optimism throughout the region. On April 27th, the foreign ministers of Latin America and the Caribbean, convened in Caracas for a preparatory meeting of the new CELAC regional group, issued a statement of support for the Cartagena mediation process.
No such statement was made by the U.S., however. Although the Obama administration has been heavily invested in a regional lobbying effort to try to secure Honduras’ return to the OAS before the organization’s June 5th General Assembly in El Salvador, it has refrained from showing any public support for the Cartagena process.
Soon after Lobo’s return from Cartagena the media began reporting on his efforts to have various criminal charges against Zelaya lifted by the Honduran judiciary. Charges of corruption had been filed against Zelaya and other exiled government officials following the coup and were considered by many to be politically motivated and designed to keep the former president and his closest allies out of the nation’s politics and out of the country period.
On May 2nd, Honduran officals triumphantly announced that an appeals court had dismissed all of the remaining criminal charges against Zelaya. Honduran law experts, however, including the widely respected former Attorney General Edmundo Orellana, were quick to point out that, as Zelaya had not been exonerated of the crimes for which he stood accused, nothing prevented the charges from being reintroduced at a later date. Zelaya himself made the same point and was subsequently accused of being a victim of “mental persecution” by Lobo.
These legal nuances failed to dampen the enthusiasm of either the U.S. administration or OAS Secretary General Jozasé Miulguel Insulza. In fact, on the very day that the charges were dropped, Insulza announced that the “principal condition for Honduras’ return to the OAS has been met” and that he would proceed with consultations of member states to see whether to hold an extraordinary session of the OAS General Assembly in which to deliberate on the issue of Honduras’ return. Though none of the four conditions outlined in Cartagena had actually been met by the Honduran government, the Secretary General seemed confident that the situation was ripe for Honduras’ re-entry.
The State Department concurred with an exuberant statement issued the following day: “the United States believes the suspension of Honduras should be immediately lifted and supports OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza’s intention to initiate consultations with member states on this issue.” For good measure, the statement noted that “since his inauguration, President Lobo has moved swiftly to pursue national reconciliation, strengthen governance, stabilize the economy, and improve human rights conditions.” Human rights groups and the FNRP have argued that, on the contrary, Lobo has made little concrete effort to advance these objectives and that the human rights situation remains as bad as ever. As Santa Cruz professor Dana Frank points out in the Nation: “to this day no one has been prosecuted or convicted for any of the politically-motivated killings of 34 members of the opposition and 10 journalists since Lobo took office, let alone for the over 300 killings by state security forces since the coup, according to COFADEH (Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras), the leading independent human rights group.”
While Insulza, the U.S. administration and some Central American countries like Panama and El Salvador have insisted that there are no more obstacles to Honduras’ OAS reincorporation, the tone has been much more cautious in South America. Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolás Maduro has continued to declare that “there are four points” that are at the center of the negociation, and that “more work is needed on each of these points.” His Brazilian colleague, Antonio Patriota echoed the Venezuelan position, stating that “there should be no rush” and that it was important “to take the necessary time to reach a firm agreement.”
It is clear that regional divisions that have emerged around the Honduras question remain deep. On the one hand, the U.S., right-wing Latin American governments and smaller countries more dependent on the U.S. are strongly backing Honduras’ immediate return to the OAS. Meanwhile, most governments of South America – a continent that has grown much more politically independent over the past decade – continue to consider that more needs to be done to restore democracy and protect the rights of opposition activists.
In mid-May these divisions came to a head when a diplomatic tussle took place at the OAS. Early on May 13th, the media reported that Insulza had convened a private meeting of the OAS Permanent Council (where representatives of all member countries participate) in which Honduras would be discussed. El Salvador, with backing from the U.S. and Central American countries, intended to use the meeting to press for the holding of an extraordinary session of the General Assembly which would vote on lifting Honduras’ OAS suspension. Within hours, however, the media announced that the meeting convened by Insulza had been unexpectedly canceled.
According to a reliable source at the OAS, several Latin American countries had asked for the Permanent Council meeting to be called off on the grounds that it was “premature.” These countries – which apparently included Colombia – felt that it was necessary to give more time to the mediation effort being led by Colombia and Venezuela.
As this diplomatic wrangling was unfolding, Zelaya issued a communiqué that appeared to echo the sentiment of many South American nations. The United States, he said, had made “diplomatic statements that undermined the possibilities of success of the [Cartagena] process…” He called on the U.S. to revise its position and acknowledge and support the mediation process, in order “to achieve a real and viable solution to the Honduran political situation.”
Indeed, why has the U.S. administration refused to back or even acknowledge the Santos-Chavez mediation process? And why does it seem to be intent on bypassing the process altogether in favor of deliberations carried out strictly within the framework of the OAS, a venue that has so far shown itself incapable of resolving Honduras’ political crisis?
One of the primary reasons, no doubt, is the fact that the Chavez government has a starring role in the mediation effort. Ever since George W. Bush’s administration, one of the U.S. government’s key priorities in the region has been to try to isolate and undermine Venezuela’s international influence at every opportunity. This re-baked containment strategy has backfired and, if anything, generated solidarity for Venezuela in the region; yet, there is no sign that the administration is prepared to reassess its policy.
Perhaps more than anything, the U.S. is not prepared to accept a political mediation in Honduras in which it doesn’t play a leading role. The U.S. has traditionally been deeply involved in the internal affairs of Honduras, a country once dubbed the USS Honduras because of the important US military presence there and because the tiny nation served as a springboard for U.S intervention in other Central American countries. As the recent bilateral agreements to expand the U.S. military presence in Honduras show, the country continues to be of great strategic importance to the U.S.
It’s interesting to note that, back in July of 2009, it was the Obama administration which took the key discussions on Honduras out of the OAS by initiating its own mediation process together with then Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. The outcome of the process – known as the San Jose-Tegucigalpa agreement – satisfied the U.S. despite the fact that it failed to restore democracy in Honduras. It didn’t, however, satisfy the majority of the hemisphere’s governments, who refused to recognize the elections which brought Lobo to power; and it failed to satisfy Zelaya and the FNRP, who remained politically marginalized and were confronted with constant intimidation and attacks.
This is not to suggest that the Colombia/Venezuela mediation is necessarily destined to bring a just, peaceful solution to Honduras’ political and social crisis. There are fears that if Zelaya does return soon to Honduras, as has been announced, the other prerequisites involving human rights and a possible revision of the country’s profoundly conservative and non-inclusive political system will be swept aside.
As a response to these fears, a joint Colombian/Venezuelan verification commission has been proposed as a mechanism of enforcement to ensure that the Lobo government would follow through on the conditions outlined in Cartagena. But given the short shrift that popular demands have received in Honduras in the past, there is understandable skepticism regarding the likelihood of real follow-up from Lobo once Honduras is back in the OAS.
Both human rights groups and Honduran social movements argue that once the suspension of Honduras’ OAS membership is lifted, there will be little to no incentive for the Lobo government – already under enormous pressure from ultra rightwing sectors – to address the grave human rights situation or work to bring the country back on the path of democracy and the rule of law. Unfortunately, though dozens of members of Congress and international human rights organizations have sought to bring this issue to the attention of the Obama administration, the U.S. and an increasing number of other governments in the region continue to disregard the dire situation in Honduras and push for the country’s immediate reincorporation into the OAS.
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
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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.
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
Victory for Justice for Colombia! November 10, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: Colombia, colombia paramilitaries, drummond, georgetown, georgetown university, Latin America, roger hollander, soa, soa watch, uribe
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Georgetown Students Serve Uribe Subpoena to Speak Under Oath About Paramilitary Ties
Last week, students at Georgetown University in Washington, DC succeeded in serving Colombia’s ex-president Álvaro Uribe with a subpoena to testify about paramilitary ties in Colombia. The Adios Uribe Coalition has campaigned since September to get Georgetown to drop Uribe as a ‘Distinguished Scholar’. Following a rally at Georgetown’s Red Square of over 100 students, teacher and activists, former SOA Watch Prisoner of Conscience (serving 6 months in a federal prison in 2003) and current Georgetown law student Charity Ryerson served Álvaro Uribe with a subpoena, directing him to testify under oath in a case against Drummond Mining Company.
The importance of this action cannot be overstated. Uribe will have to talk about his knowledge of paramilitary collusion with the transnational Drummond and with the Colombian Armed Forces. Drummond is being sued by close to 500 families of victims of paramilitary terror, who claim that the coal company worked with the Colombian paramilitaries to murder, torture and disappear their loved ones. Augusto Jiménez, the president of Drummond in Colombia, is a distant relative of Álvaro Uribe.
Under the regime of Álvaro Uribe, close to 35,000 Colombians were killed, with thousands being presented as guerrilla fighters killed in combat. He has been accused of wiretapping his political opponents, attacking social movements and many in his party have been tied to the paramilitary infrastructure. While the Jesuits have been outspoken defenders of the poor and the marginalized in Latin America, Georgetown University continues to try to clean the image of Uribe by employing him as an academic. SOA Watch remembers the thousands of disappeared, displaced and massacred in Colombia and across the Américas, and calls on Georgetown to drop Uribe.
Stand up for justice: SOAW.org/take-action/november-vigil
IN SEARCH OF ANTANAS MOKUS September 9, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Colombia.
Tags: antanas mokus, Colombia, colombia government, colombia liberal, colombia poitics, gerard coffey, green party, juan manuel santos, roger hollander, sergio fajardo
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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.
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.
Georgetown University Welcomes Colombia’s Ex-Pres. Uribe September 7, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Education, Human Rights, Latin America, Religion.
Tags: Colombia, Colombia civilian killings, Colombia common grave, colombia congress, colombia human rights, colombia paramilitaries, colombia unions, Colombian disappeared, Colombian military, georgetown, georgetown university, gu, jesuit, john dear, la macarena, roger hollander, school americas, soa, uribe
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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.
“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?”
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.
Keep Colombian Ex-President Alvaro Uribe out of Georgetown and send him packing to La Picota prison in Colombia! September 2, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: Alvaro Uribe, Colombia, Colombia Civil War, colombia paramilitaries, Colombian government, Colombian military, georgetown university, human rights, Latin America, roger hollander
U.S. and Colombia
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Georgetown University has recently announced that former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe will be named a “distinguished scholar in the practice of global leadership,” and will soon begin giving seminars at the university’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS). Uribe has said it is a “great honor” for him, and that his “greatest wish and happiness is to contribute in the continuous emergence of future leaders.”
Uribe’s 8-year tenure in Colombia was rife with corruption, human rights violations and widespread impunity. In a letter in June to the White House, Human Rights Watch expressed “serious concerns” about the Uribe administration’s record on and commitment to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
For more information on Uribe and human rights violations, click here.
Students, community activists and religious leaders have already spoken out against the university’s decision, and will be planning actions of protest for this fall.
Take action NOW, by signing this letter to Georgetown University President, Mr. John J. DeGioia.