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Colombia Nationwide Strike Against ‘Free Trade,’ Privatization, Poverty August 25, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Imperialism, Labor, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: I am publishing this articles so that readers in the United States might know what’s going on in their 51st state.

Ignored by English-language media, rural uprisings spread across industries as hundreds of thousands protest US-backed govt


– Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Protests in Sincelejo (Photo: Marcha Patriotica)

A nationwide strike in Colombia—which started as a rural peasant uprising and spread to miners, teachers, medical professionals, truckers, and students—reached its 7th day Sunday as at least 200,000 people blocked roads and launched protests against a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and devastating policies of poverty and privatization pushed by US-backed right-wing President Juan Manuel Santos.

“[The strike is a condemnation] of the situation in which the Santos administration has put the country, as a consequence of its terrible, anti-union and dissatisfactory policies,” declared the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), the country’s largest union, in a statement.

The protests and strikes, largely ignored in the English-language media, have been met with heavy crackdown from Colombia’s feared police, with human rights organization Bayaca reporting shootings, torture, sexual assault, severe tear-gassing, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses on the part of state agents. Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon recently claimed that the striking workers are being controlled by the “terrorist” Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in a country known for using unverified claims of FARC connections as an excuse to launch severe violence against social movements.

“Violent clashes continue in rural areas where farmers and truck drivers have been setting up roadblocks since Monday, and the Santos administration has deployed 16,000 additional military personnel to ‘control the situation,'” Neil Martin of the Colombia-based labor solidarity organization Paso International told Common Dreams Sunday. “There have not been deaths reported in relation to this violence, but human rights organizations and YouTube videos have documented military personnel beating protestors, stealing supplies, carrying out vandalism unwarranted arrests, and generally inciting violence.”

Protesters are levying a broad range of concerns about public policies that devastate Colombia’s workers, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities. The US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement has forced small farmers to compete with subsidized US products, made them more vulnerable to market fluctuations, and eroded their protections and social safety nets through the implementation of neoliberal policies domestically. Farmers are demanding more protections and services in a country beset with severe rural poverty.

Meanwhile, the Colombian government is handing out sweetheart deals to international mining companies while creating bans and roadblocks for Colombian miners. Likewise, the government is giving multinational food corporations access to land earmarked for poor Colombians. Healthcare workers are fighting a broad range of reforms aimed at gutting and privatizing Colombia’s healthcare system. Truckers are demanding an end to low wages and high gas prices.

“This is the third or fourth large-scale non-military rural uprising this year,” Martin told Common Dreams.

Colombian workers organizing to improve their lives are met with an onslaught of state violence: Colombia is the deadliest country in the world for union activists, according to the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, and 37 activists were murdered in Colombia in the 1st half of 2013 alone, leading news weekly Semana reports.

Santos, who says he refuses to negotiate while the strikes are taking place, has so far been unsuccessful in his efforts to quell the swelling protests that are paralyzing much of the country, particularly in rural areas.

“[W]e just want solutions to our problems,” Javier Correa Velez, the head of a coffee-growers association called Dignidad Cafetera, told the Miami Herald. “The strike is simply a symptom of an illness that the entire agriculture sector is suffering from.”

(Photo: Twitter/@zonacero)



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.

The Circle Opens Out: New Evidence on Criminality in Colombian Regime May 26, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Colombia, Latin America.
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Written by Manuel Rozental   
Tuesday, 25 May 2010 12:42

“The Circle is Closing” is the title of the report just released by Colombian magazine Semana [i]. It refers to how indeed the circle is closing on the Presidential Palace in Colombia, where the headquarters of a “criminal enterprise” involving Colombia’s secret services (DAS), function under the direct orders of President Alvaro Uribe and his advisors. This latest report provides evidence, not only of involvement, but direction, orders and full control from the Presidential Palace and the President’s closest friends and advisors of illegal and criminal operations. This criminal machinery has no parallel in history and a lot is to be unveiled yet. The Government and the President initially denied, then expressed concern and finally indignation at the accusations and against the evidence. The testimonies and documents provided and exposed in this report (and added to the already abundant existing proof) are conclusive.

From Colombia’s top office and higher post, a criminal state structure has been established (it is still in place and being covered up). This structure is dedicated to spying, defamation, corruption, intimidation, threats, assassinations, disappearances and much more. Those affected by these actions include Supreme Court magistrates, human rights lawyers, members of parliament, political opposition leaders, academics, journalists, union members, indigenous, afro-Colombian, women, peasant leaders and advisors and many civilians and community members. Aurelio Suarez described these criminal activities as a “fraction of what the CIA-Nixon-Watergate scandal involved.”[i] All of this comes under the direction of Colombia’s presidential palace and the highest people in power. The evidence against those involved makes it impossible for President Uribe to keep maintaining that he did not know. The circle is indeed closing.

But this is only the DAS scandal. Then there are the thousands of assassinations known as “false positives;” the abuse and the misuse of the judicial system to attack civilians and democratic social and political leaders; the corruption of the largest and most notorious government initiatives, where funds for the poor and social sectors are systematically transferred to drug lords, paramilitaries, wealthy industrialists and entrepreneurs and friends of the President and his ministers; the buying of votes in Congress to obtain constitutional reform; and the approval of many legislative acts, including  FTAs, to benefit a few at the expense the many in open violation of the Colombian Constitution and all international treaties, agreements and charters of rights and freedoms. Add to that the assassination of key witnesses; the payback of favours to the Government with land, government posts and jobs and funds; the massive and illegal accumulation of resources; the illegal assignment of contracts to the President’s relatives, including his two sons. In all of this, the mainstream media is complicit in these facts by covering them up: the farce of the paramilitary disarmament, whereby massive amounts of capital from the drug trade have been laundered; brutally acquired land legalized; crimes against humanity, including systematic cannibalism, massacres, mass graves and more to be discovered, have been minimally exposed and mostly ignored. When key witnesses and paramilitary commanders have begun to expose their involvement and cooperation with governments and transnational corporations, they have been extradited abroad and silenced. Meanwhile, paramilitary aggression continues and is worsening through threats and assassinations throughout the Colombian territory.

Over the ground laid by previous Governments in coordination with their national and transnational counterparts, during the last 8 years, the Colombian Government has dedicated its every effort to transforming the Colombian State into a criminal enterprise. The structure of the Colombian regime is rotten. It is a State against its obligations, against the Colombian people, against the Colombian economy, against nature, against humanity. All this is known even while those in power maintain control of the State. If “democratic security” and “Investor Trust,” the hallmark policies of this government, were to be removed, expelled from the structure of the Colombian regime, and if the required legal proceedings and investigations were allowed to advance as they should, one cannot begin to imagine the horror and perversity revealed to be at the core of this model regime, designed “hand in glove” for -and most likely by- major foreign government and corporate counterparts.

If Colombians are victims of this regime, indeed of this State, one has to ask who the beneficiaries are. The answer has to be sought. This is an International Criminal Legal issue. Amongst many other facts that require volumes to be exposed, Colombia is the largest recipient of US military aid and cooperation in the continent. The Colombian regime is the closest ally of transnational corporate interests (pharmaceutical, tourism, mining, oil, agribusiness, food, energy, biopiracy, infrastructure projects such as dams, the arms trade and almost anyone involved in anything and everything from the legal and illegal organized global crime networks). Through FTAs, the Colombian regime has delivered national sovereignty, freedoms, resources, labour, nature and more to foreign interests at an intolerable expense for Colombians. Investors are attracted to put money into the Colombian economy for guaranteed profit in exchange for absolutely nothing for the Colombian population: No jobs, no transfer of technologies, no profit for the Colombian economy. The Colombian criminal regime promised Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on November 21 2008, to deliver 50% of Colombian territory to mining and other transnational corporate interests [iii]. Every crime of the Colombian State revolves around corporate profit.

Silencing, spying, intimidating, murdering, buying out, dispossessing, destroying individuals and collectives who defend their rights and the well-being of Colombians and of the national territory, by the Colombian regime, benefits corporate interests and guarantees what is known as Free Trade Agreements. There are mass graves for profit. There are massacres for profit. There is a war for profit. There are more than 4 million people forcibly displaced for profit. Colombia’s rural areas are being transformed into concentration and confinement camps for profit. There is a dirty war for profit. There is a war on drugs and a war on terrorism as a pretext for profit. A Colombian war machine has been built to attack neighbouring countries and generate terror and instability throughout the continent for profit. There is a lying propaganda machine that hides and promotes all this and much more for profit. There are politicians, journalists, academics, intellectuals, lawyers and an army of planners, promoters and accomplices of this model of terror, policies and propaganda for export and for profit.

Without any doubt, justice has yet to begin to establish some judicial facts:

1. The charges for criminal and political involvement and responsibility of Colombian President Uribe and of his Government, high officials and State Institutions in criminal activities that range from corruption to crimes against humanity and everything in between.

2. The charges and criminal involvement of those funding, arming, supporting, covering-up and reaping the benefits of this regime both within and mostly outside of Colombia.

Nothing of this magnitude and reach could be happening without the knowledge, complicity and indeed, direction of people and powers above the Colombian President. Isolating this abscess as was done with Noriega (Panama) or Fujimori (Peru) or Saddam Hussein (Iraq), will just not do. No one can believe that the military and intelligence advisors, the embassies, the corporate headquarters, the governments, functionaries, politicians, ministers, members of parliament and others did not know and or participate.

As the circle closes in on the Colombian government, it should also open out, surrounding those who have arrogantly denied these facts, attacked as “ideologically motivated,” “against trade,” and supportive of “terrorists” any witnesses or indeed anyone opposing deals with a criminal regime for criminal intent. The circle must include those who have (on record!) insisted on stating loudly and firmly that the Colombian regime, its policies and Free Trade with this criminal State, are for the benefit and wellbeing of Colombians; those who are extracting and plan to extract resources, labour and wealth, taking advantage of a country subdued under terror with the aid of a criminal enterprise placed in power for their interest and at the expense of Colombian people; those in Europe, the U.S and Canada (and elsewhere), who have distorted the truth to promote the exploitation, bloodshed and pillage of Colombia for profit. These people support and promote this state of affairs. On the other hand, we do not speak from statistics. It is our pain that speaks out, that which these people try to silence and disrespect. We have friends, relatives, communities, suffering, exploited, exiled or dead while you tell us we are being impoverished, displaced and murdered for ideological reasons. No, we are not. It has all been truth. It has all been for profit. The mechanisms of horror, policy and propaganda for profit are in place, and you know it. You have been there when they were being implemented. Were you part of their design? You are there now. When we tell you once again the truth, you call us liars even while more and more evidence is coming out. We will not forgive or forget when you will say “I didn’t know”. You know. You are against us and for those who gain from our suffering.

As all this has been known, the attacks have increased against those of us who have exposed facts against the regime and against its transnational counterparts: intimidation, threats, media distortions, unwillingness to respect and recognize the truth. All this and more can be observed, for example, throughout the proceedings of the Canadian Government and within the Canadian Parliament and its Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT), under the leadership of Conservative and Liberal Members of Parliament. They are ratifying an FTA with Colombia at the very time that all the evidence of the criminal regime is being exposed. In fact, the entire process in Parliament is a strategy to validate the lies of those whose crimes are being exposed now. Agents of the criminal Government and corporate beneficiaries of these actions are invited to speak and treated respectfully, while victims are insulted. The more the Liberals and Conservatives know, the more they rush to promote an agreement based on terror for profit, and the more they attack those who expose the truth and the victims of this criminal regime. We want trade. We want it for the benefit of Canadians and Colombians. But trade cannot continue to mean the inevitable exploitation of the many, the psychotic and outrageous destruction of life and Mother Earth for the profit of a few who act as though they have a right to own the planet and our destinies.

As the circle closes in on the Colombian President and State, it only begins to open out on those who have made it possible for this regime to carry out its crimes and those who reap the benefits of murder, exploitation and theft.

Given the judicial facts known and those that need to be exposed, the Colombian regime has to be dismantled, the rotten structure replaced, truth and justice must be established and all involved and responsible removed and punished. If Canada ratifies a FTA, like the Conservatives, if Mr. Brison, Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. Rae, Mr. Silva and rest of the Liberals insist on carrying on with their business under these conditions, their words and actions will provide further evidence (on record!) to their involvement and complicity with what can only be described as a fascist transnational criminal regime for profit. Up until now, the rhetoric to embellish horror is being imposed on the truth, through a system for the system. Liberal Members of Parliament, only you and your gullible accomplices can believe your own lies, while the truth accumulates in mass graves, destruction, dispossession and pain.

The circle has closed in and is opening out to close in again on those who now, like Uribe and his Government before, have lied and are lying to cover-up and commit their crimes for profit. No CCFTA. Yes to trade with justice, for life.  

[i] Semana, “Se cierra el círculo,” May 15, 2010, http://www.semana.com/noticias-nacion/cierra-circulo/138929.aspx.

[ii] Aurelio Suárez, “Sobre Chuza-DAS y toda suerte de crímenes y delitos,” May 11, 2010, http://www.moir.org.co/Sobre-Chuza-DAS-y-toda-suerte-de.html.

[iii] República de Colombia, “Declaración y rueda de prensa del Presidente Álvaro Uribe durante la firma del Tratado de Libre Comerio Colombia-Canadá” (Presidencia de la República de Colombia, November 21, 2008), http://web.presidencia.gov.co/sp/2008/noviembre/21/19212008_i.html.


Conservative Attempt to Silence Witnesses on Canada-

Colombia Free Trade Must Be Rejected, Says the Council of


OTTAWA – May 26 – Three motions (below) by Conservative MP Gerald Keddy to stop hearing from witnesses and rush through clause-by-clause consideration of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement must be rejected during an in-camera meeting of the international trade committee on Thursday , says the Council of Canadians.

“The Conservatives and Liberals are clearly uncomfortable hearing witness after witness state that Canada should not sign a free trade agreement with Colombia without first ordering an independent assessment of the deal on human rights,” says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “It’s an inconvenient truth about this deal that it will likely make a bad situation worse in Colombia and do little for the Canadian economy. Voting for Keddy’s motions on Thursday would be a transparent attempt to sweep that truth under the rug.”

Mr. Keddy does a further injustice to democracy by proposing that MPs only get five seconds to consider each clause in the Colombia agreement, and the decision to move Thursday’s meeting in-camera is also surprising, and a sign perhaps that the Conservatives are feeling the public pressure. The Council of Canadians has organized “Tweet-Ins” in English and most recently in Spanish during the last three trade committee meetings to give real-time updates on committee proceedings and MP comments to people who cannot be there in person. The first Tweet-In on May 11 reached tens of thousands of people and made the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement the second most popular topic of discussion on Twitter.

There is near unanimous support among Canadian labour, development, ecumenical and social justice organizations that the Colombia free trade deal should wait until a human rights impact assessment can be carried out. A Liberal proposal from trade critic Scott Brison, which resulted in an as yet unspecific amendment to the agreement requiring some form of annual human rights reports post-ratification, is seen with skepticism because of comments from Colombian trade officials that the Colombian government would perform its own assessments.

“When the Liberals voted in the House of Commons last month to end second reading debate on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, sending it to committee, it was on the explicit condition that a ‘comprehensive’ and ‘in depth’ study be carried out of the agreement’s human rights implications,” says Trew. “The only choice of all opposition parties on Thursday is to reject Keddy’s motions and to hear from all remaining witnesses.”


Notice of Motions – Gerald Keddy, MP Date: May 25, 2010

Motion #1 That the Committee hear no more testimonies regarding its study of Bill C-2 and that it conclude clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill on Tuesday, June 1 2010; and that by no later than 5:30 p.m. of June 1st, all remaining questions in relation to the clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill be put to a vote without further debate.

Motion #2 That regarding the Committee’s clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-2 each member will take no longer than 5 seconds to vote on each clause and amendment; and if the 5 seconds limit is exceeded the member will be deemed to have abstained.

Motion #3 That all proposed amendments to the bill must be tabled with the clerk of the committee 24 hours in advance of the meeting in which the proposed amendments will be moved; and that the chair of the committee, at his discretion, be allowed to group similar amendments to be considered at the same time.

Notice of Motion – Peter Julian, MP 2010-05-25

That the Committee provide sufficient time during the committee’s scheduled meetings of May 27, June 1rst, June 3rd , June 8th and June 10th , to hear the testimony of the organizations and persons who have written to the Committee to date, requesting to appear as witnesses at the Bill C-2 hearings, which include, AFRODES (Charo Mina Rojas), Justicia y Paz (Danilo Rueda), Dr. Penelope Simons (University of Ottawa), National Union of Public and General Employees (James Clancy), CLC (Sheila Katz), AFL-CIO (Jeff Vogt), National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC – Luis Fernando Arias Secretary General), OPSEU (Smokey Thomas & Yhony Munoz), Mingas-FTA (Natalia Fajardo), la Chiva Collective (Manual Rozental), Gary Leech (Independent Journalist, NS), NOMADESC (Berenice Celeyta), Union of the Ombudsman’s office (Maria Eva Villate, President, Human Rights Lawyer), Congressman Mike Michaud, Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS), National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), Central Unitaria De Trahabadores de Colombia, CODHES (Jorge Rohas, President) and that the committee close off hearings on Bill C-2 and proceed to clause by clause review after having heard these witnesses.