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Colombia-Canada trade pact needs more thought: Activists

Montreal Gazette

Colombia-Canada trade pact needs more thought: Activists

By Jorge Barrera, Canwest News Services

10 February 2009

OTTAWA - The signed free trade deal between Canada and Colombia could devastate indigenous communities in the South American country if implemented in its current form, says an official with a national Colombian indigenous group in Ottawa Tuesday to lobby government and opposition MPs to delay implementation of the economic pact.

German Casama Findrama, coordinator with the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, said the Colombian government had weakened laws that protected the land rights of indigenous people. Indigenous communities already face assassinations and displacement, he said.

"The impact will be worse under the free trade deal," he said.

Foreign companies would have unfettered access to lands home to indigenous communities and rich in resources, said Findrama.

Omar Fernandez Obregon, a Franciscan brother and human rights activist, said Colombian civil society groups want Canadian MPs to heed the 2008 recommendations of a Commons international trade committee report.

The report recommended that Canada not sign a free trade deal "until there is confirmation that the improvements noted are maintained, including . . . (in) regards to displacement, labour law and accountability for crime."

Canada and Colombia signed the free trade pact, which includes labour and environmental provisions, last November during a meeting in Peru. Parliament still needs to ratify the deal, but the process is seen as a formality.

Obregon said the Colombian situation remains far from stable or clear. He works in a community called Soacha, south of Bogota, which was home to dozens of young men found dead hundreds of kilometres to the north dressed in military fatigues resembling guerillas. The discovery, late last year, triggered the resignation of several top military leaders and the arrest of soldiers last month. The soldiers were accused of using the killings to pad their guerrilla body count.

"There are dark forces at work everywhere," said Maria del Carmen Sanchez Burgos, president of the Colombian health workers union. "We don’t know what is what."

Canadian companies sold $600 million US worth of goods and services to Colombia in 2007.