Canadian Council for International Co-operation
Not The Time for a Canada/Colombia Trade Deal - Colombian Bishop
20 November 2007
Ottawa — A Methodist Bishop from Colombia says the Canadian government is misguided to argue that a trade deal between Canada and Colombia will help democracy and human rights and bring economic prosperity to his country.
Trade talks recommence in Lima in a week’s time.
"If Canada were to assess the real impact of a trade deal on the lives of Colombians, I believe it would change its mind on the advisability of continuing negotiations," says Bishop Juan Alberto Cardona, leader of the Methodist Church of Colombia.
Human Rights Watch calls Colombia the worst human rights and humanitarian crisis in the Hemisphere. Illegal executions of civilians by the Colombian military and paramilitary forces took 955 lives in the past five years. Most affected are indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, trade unionists, human rights activists, journalists and opposition politicians. Real justice for those responsible is almost unheard of.
Many of President Uribe’s close political allies, including his own chief of security, personal advisers, family members, and members of congress have been tied to para-military death squad activities. This record of corruption and human rights abuses convinced the U.S. Congress to reject a similar trade deal with Colombia.
"So, naturally, the government is desperate for a deal with Canada. It’s like a stamp of approval," says Bishop Cardona. "But we say, stop the killing of innocent Colombians, disarm the paramilitaries, and protect human rights before any deals are made."
As for increased prosperity, Bishop Cardona says economic rewards in Colombia are so unequally distributed today that any benefits from a trade deal will go to an elite minority and multinational corporations who control land and resources largely acquired through violence.
Bishop Cardona is in Canada to meet with MPs and journalists and to make the case for putting trade talks on hold. His visit has been organized by Canadian faith, labour and development groups active in Colombia.
The Harper government says its new Americas Strategy will promote Canada’s "fundamental values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law." The Canadian groups ask how the murders of more than 550 trade unionists under Uribe’s administration, 98% of them unpunished, meet that test.
What’s worse, the government is rushing the deal with no democratic consultation.
"Why did Canadian negotiators ask their Colombian counterparts to withhold the content of the labour texts, especially from Canadian unions and NGOs?" asks Steve Benedict of the Canadian Labour Congress. "The issues raised by these talks are too important to exclude Canadians from the discussion."
The Canadian groups want a full Parliamentary and public debate on the merits of signing a trade deal with a government whose very legitimacy is in question because of its human rights record.