'No Trade Deal With a Corrupt Regime'
By James Parks,
May 2, 2007, AFL-CI0 Now
Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for trade
unionists. Nearly 2,300 union leaders and members have been
murdered there since 1991 and the government routinely ignores
or violates internationally recognized workers' rights.
Last year alone, 72 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia.
Yet the Bush administration continues to push for a trade deal
with that country.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe found out today that U.S.
working families will not tolerate their country making deals
with a corrupt regime. Uribe was met with strong opposition to
the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) from protesters,
activists and union leaders as he traveled across Washington,
D.C., trying to sell the deal.
The Bush administration submitted the deal to Congress in time
to be considered under its Fast Track trade- promotion
authority, which expires June 30. But workers in both
countries say the deal with Colombia should be renegotiated
because it will hurt workers and push back efforts to bring an
end to the violence against union leaders and ordinary
Outside the Center for American Progress near the White House,
where Uribe held a press conference today, nearly 100
demonstrators marched, carrying signs saying 'Just Say No to
FTA' and 'Colombia: Frightening Terrorist Agreement.'
Nine demonstrators laid on the sidewalk in body bags to
dramatize the violence against innocent people in Colombia.
Bob Baugh, director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council,
told the crowd, 'This is a rotten deal.'
John Garces, a Colombian exile whose father was murdered by
paramilitaries, said, 'It pains my heart that the Uribe
government has done nothing to stop the killing of innocent
men like my father, whose only crime was to work to help
better the lives of his fellow workers.'
Now, after all these years of weakening the rights of
workers, of harassing them and murdering them, the
Colombian government has negotiated a free trade agreement
with the United States that will make it almost impossible
for workers in Colombia to ever recover. The entire labor
movement in Colombia is protesting this agreement. If the
FTA was actually going to bring jobs and development to
Colombia, then that wouldn't be the case.
Earlier in the day, the AFL-CIO issued a strong statement
condemning the free trade agreement with Colombia. Four
hundred trade unionists have been killed in Colombia since
Uribe took office in 2002. And his government has made
'repeated-but ineffectual-promises to end the situation of
impunity in the country,' the statement said.
In those cases where the killers are known, government-
supported paramilitary groups or the armed forces or
police have been found to be responsible. Many of Uribe's
senior advisors have been revealed to be connected to the
This is a corrupt nation and a corrupt regime.
Therefore, we stand with working people in the United
States and Colombia and say no to the [free trade
agreement] with Colombia.
After meeting with Uribe this afternoon, AFL-CIO President
John Sweeney said he delivered the message that the federation
is strongly opposed to a trade agreement at this time.
Colombia's atrocious human rights record sets it apart
from the rest of the world. There is no labor language
that could be inserted into the U.S.- Colombia FTA that
could adequately address the extraordinary-and unpunished-
violence confronting trade unionists in that country.
No labor chapter, no matter how well crafted, will be
sufficient to reduce, much less end, the incidence of the
most extreme and deadly violations of the right to free
association and collective bargaining. And no trade
agreement with Colombia should be considered until the
country meets an established set of human rights
According to the AFL-CIO statement, those benchmarks for
Colombia should include:
* Severing all ties with paramilitary organizations and
international criminal networks. * Making significant
advances in investigating and prosecuting crimes against
trade unionists. * Providing protection for unions and
trade unionists. * Bringing Colombia's labor laws into
conformity with International Labor Organization (ILO)
standards. * Supporting the ILO office in Colombia to
monitor labor rights compliance and investigate key cases
of assassinations of trade unionists.
At the press conference, Uribe tried to defend his
government's actions, saying he has committed no crime, but
that he has made mistakes. He said he is trying to move
Colombia toward 'institutional democracy' and fight terrorists
at the same time. But at times it seemed Uribe confused
opponents of his government with terrorists.
For example, when asked if he would prosecute multinational
companies that had been shown to have hired paramilitaries to
maintain order among workers, Uribe replied that one of the
first things terrorists do is try to discredit institutions
such as employers, the army and the police.
Responding to another question about reports that human rights
abuses by security forces are on the rise in Colombia, Uribe
said he wants to move toward better protection of human rights
but must be careful not to destroy the army and police in the
process. Never once did he say he would commit to stamping out
human rights abuses or ensure workers' rights.