Why a Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is a Big Mistake

Canadian Labour Congress

Why a Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is a Big Mistake

7 November 2007

Guided by our shared values of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law, a commitment to action means that Canada must make common cause with those fighting for the values we uphold .”Throne Speech, Oct. 16, 2007

Ten reasons why Canada should immediately stop negotiations of a free trade agreement with Colombia; the worst human rights violator in the Americas:

1. Colombia is the country where more trade unionists are killed than in the rest of the world combined. Four hundred (400) union officers and rank-and-file members have been brutally and systematically murdered during the administration of President Alvaro Uribe Velez. Of these crimes there have been only 7 convictions. In 2006, 72 unionists were murdered 23; so far in 2007. Labour activists are targeted by those who believe organizing unions is a subversive activity linked to the guerillas. In those cases where the perpetrator is known, government-supported paramilitary organizations or the armed forces or the police are most often responsible. Former paramilitary leader Carlos Castano explained that, "We kill trade unionists because they interfere with people working.” The government’s inaction sends a clear message to human rights violators that there are still no consequences for killing trade unionists in Colombia.

2. Designated as a "foreign terrorist organization" by the Canadian Government, Colombian paramilitaries have committed numerous atrocities and crimes, including massacres, murder, torture and trafficking illicit drugs. The purpose of paramilitary terror has been to dismantle Indigenous, Afro-Colombian and other social movements and vulnerable groups in order to take over their resource rich territories for the benefit of the mostly multinational extractive industries and agriculture such as "African" palm oil. Few controls exist to ensure that extractive companies behave responsibly.

3. There are 3.8 million internally displaced people, 57% of which are women. The UN calls this the worst humanitarian disaster in the Western Hemisphere and it is growing.

4. Nine hundred and fifty-five (955) cases of extrajudicial executions by the army over the last five years have been documented. The numbers are rising. Colombian soldiers are accused of executing peasants in rural areas and passing them off as leftist rebels killed in combat.

5. Sixty-two (62) mafia-like, ex-paramilitary, drug-trafficking, criminal networks control economic activities and political institutions in 23 of the 31 provinces and are vying with guerilla groups for control of the drug trade. Despite the demobilization of over 31,000 paramilitary death squad members, abuse and insecurity prevail in the countryside.

6. Forty (40) lawmakers including senators, governors and mayors representing the President’s political coalition are under investigation by the country’s Attorney-General and Supreme Court for alleged relationships with paramilitary chiefs (labeled as terrorists by Canada) and collusion in elections fraud. Seventeen (17) are in jail together with Uribe’s former head of secret services and campaign manager and high-ranking military officials.

7. Journalists, electoral candidates, human rights workers, community and union leaders and those who challenge President Uribe’s policies are accused by the President of being supporters of the FARC guerillas. Such accusations are often followed by death threats, disappearance or exile. The well-known journalist, Holman Morris, recent recipient of the Canadian Freedom of Expression award is once again in exile after being accused of providing information to the FARC.

8. The US Congress has refused to approve a similar free trade agreement with Colombia based on evidence of government involvement in crimes against humanity, massive human rights violations, on-going unsolved crimes against labour activists and direct involvement of the Colombian government with paramilitary death squads. They say Bogota is not doing enough to prosecute those accused of colluding with the paramilitaries or to dismantle their power structures.

9. Prime Minister Harper says he believes that the Colombian government has been working to implement open market policies and strengthen democracy within the country. A FTA with Canada throws a lifeline of political support to a government in a crisis of legitimacy, whose supporters have been linked to paramilitary death squads which the Canadian government has classified as terrorist organizations.

And most importantly,

10. Colombia’s president Alvaro Uribe Velez and his government do NOT share Canadian values of human rights, democracy, freedom and rule of law.

Ineffective labour and environmental side agreements with no teeth on rights or standards will do nothing to improve the situation described above.

The Canadian Labour Congress, therefore, calls on Prime Minister Harper to stop negotiations of the international business deal with Colombia until he can show the Canadian public that measures have been taken to ensure the following:

1. the rule of law and an end to impunity for crimes against union leaders, human rights defenders and the civilian population;

2. that Canadian extractive companies operating in Colombia act responsibly to the communities in which they operate;

3. that displaced communities can return to their lands;

4. that Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities are involved and allowed a say on development projects which take place on their territories;

5. that no products, resources or other commercial goods are produced on lands illegally appropriated by drug traffickers and paramilitary groups;

6. that a trade deal does not benefit government linked criminal networks;

7. that an international business deal with Colombia or any other country fosters “fair-trade”, and does not only benefit international investors while worsening widespread conditions of poverty and social exclusion.

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