’A simple protest can lead to death’: Canada’s auto union on Colombia FTA

Colombia Reports | Wednesday, 07 April 2010

’A simple protest can lead to death’: Canada’s auto union on Colombia FTA

Brett Borkan

Canadian Auto Workers union, (CAW) the country’s largest union, last week issued an inflamatory press release calling on his government to halt trade negotiations with Colombia, calling the deal "a shocking betrayal of Canadians’ expectation that we don’t negotiate with human rights abusers."

“Needless to say, we have opposed it from day one,” Lewanza explains. “Our biggest concern is human rights violations in Colombia, with special emphases on the killing of trade unionists."

"It is well documented ... that a simple protest in Colombia could lead to their death.”

Human wrongs

For Lewenza, the statistics showing “improvements” in Colombia’s human rights record are not convincing. “Even Amnesty International doesn’t support the notion that Colombia has cleaned up their human rights violations."

"The data we are using shows that since 1986, over 2900 unionists have been gunned down, 400 during Uribe’s presidency alone! That is not a trend that anyone should have comfort in."

Lewenza criticises the recent move by the Canadian government to include an annual human rights review alongside the FTA as insufficient, because it is not an independent review, but is carried out by the governments themselves. “Anybody who writes their own report card, especially a country with a history like Colombia’s, it’s just not believable. We want an independent group to investigate the human rights situation in Colombia.”

Free trade or fair trade

CAW is equally sceptical about the supposed economic benefits of the FTA with Colombia, and of free trade deals in general. Lewenza argues that trade deals unfairly place capital above workers. “We’ve seen global capital move from one country to another with no restrictions, with the government not standing up for Canadian workers and jobs"

"This isn’t about governments protecting the interests of nations, it’s about governments giving global capital the opportunity to move any place they want to move, unrestricted.”

But CAW has a different system in mind, one which is based on the principle of "fair trade" rather than free trade. “Free trade agreements have not been in the best interests of workers ... in any country. What we have been advocating for from day one is reciprocal trade. For every $1 we send to Colombia, we should get a $1 in return. That’s fair trade.”

Colombian PR

Lewenza challenges the notion that Colombia’s democracy should be supported as a bulwark against the growing anti-democratic trend in the region.

“Colombia is not very democratic," he states. "There is lots of public relations going on about Colombia, their human rights record, economic development, but quite frankly, its unbelievable. To suggest that Colombia is a democratic country when, still, trade unionists are killed, is absolutely ridiculous!"

The Colombia-Canada Free Trade Agreement was originally signed in 2008, and is awaiting approval by Canada’s parliament.