Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harper in Colombia: Free Trade Coming Ahead of Human Rights

The Para-Political scandal in Colombia is one good reason why Canada should not have a free trade accord with Colombia.

The para-political scandal is the current outrage engulfing Colombian politics. In February, the foreign minister was forced to resign after the arrest of her brother, a senator in Colombia's congress, due to their ties to one of the heads of a paramilitary group. In April, Senator Gustavo Petro, of Polo Democrático Alternativo, the new alternative political party in Colombia, exposed the web of relationships between the death squads and members of the President's party as well senators from different parties, including liberal members of congress.

In the early 1980's, the bigger land-owners of Colombia formed the "United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia" (AUC), a paramilitary organization, in response to the local farmers who had been organizing and protecting themselves from the excessive exploitation and greed of those very huge land-owners. Using the AUC, the big landowners have seized more than 26,000 square miles from local farmers, killing tens of thousands in the process and displacing thousands more. These paramilitary thugs of the AUC have murdered community and union organizers as well as any villagers who have resisted. This has meant that after the Sudan, Colombia has the second highest number of internal refugees.

The scandal is the first fully visible example of the complex but ‘legitimized’ relations between the Colombian state- its institutions as well as its political parties- and the right wing paramilitary death squads that have been internally attacking the population. The AUC and its sister organizations have received the benediction and protection of important politicos in Colombia. For example, Senator Petro revealed that President Uribe, as governor of the Antioquia State, held meetings with top-ranking paramilitary leaders on a nightly basis in his gubernatorial compound, handing over lists of suspected organizers. The para-politico scandal has also shown how relentless multi-national corporations are in acquiring their profits. For example, Del Monte and Chiquita have been caught buying paramilitary ‘protection’, hiring death squads to brutally suppress its workers. Furthermore, last year in 2006, the year of Uribe’s reelection, 77 union organizers have been ‘disappeared’ and all are presumed to be assassinated.

Why does Canada do nothing while Colombian blood drenches Colombian soil? Is it perhaps because Canadian companies are profiting from this blood? Imperial Oil through its multi-national parent company, ExxonMobil, sells gas to Canada and Colombia, as well as owning gas interests in both countries. Various Canadian banks do business in Colombia. As well, mining companies such as Cerejon, exports coal from Colombia for use in Eastern Canadian power plants. Canadian food importing businesses bring in cheap in-demand, out-of-season or tropical fruits, vegetables and other staples, such as bananas, papayas and coffee. All these Canadian multi-nationals use Colombian natural resources and labour-power for their benefit.

Additionally, although US Democrats had pushed for a free trade deal with Colombia and helped the Colombian state acquire funding for the paramilitaries, it now looks like the Democrats are withdrawing their support for this corrupt regime, as they may now block the passage of the free trade accord between the US and Colombia. For the workers of Colombia, the failure of the free trade accord means that they will not face more cuts to whatever current meager social programs are in existence.

However, on June 7, it was announced that Canada is seeking to firm up a free trade agreement with Colombia because of the impending loss of the US and Colombian free trade accord. Also with Prime Minister Harper’s jaunt to the US’ closest allies of the South America --Colombia, Peru and Brazil (with a possible stop-over in Haiti, a country that is still a horrible skeleton in the Canadian closet), our concern is that President Uribe’s corruption is going to be re-enforced with Canadian resources: money, trade and military. Therefore, we need to decide if we will allow Canada to further profit off of the pain of Colombian workers. A free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia will not improve Colombian lives; it will only increase Colombia’s painful exploitation and weaken Canadian labour.