Five U.S. Congressmen spoke at a news conference today stating that President Uribe must demonstrate a higher level of commitment to human rights before the U.S. will be willing to move forward with a free trade agreement with Colombia.
WASHINGTON OFFICE ON LATIN AMERICA
Promoting Human Rights, Democracy, and Social and Economic Justice in Latin America
For Immediate Release
June 7, 2007
Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Senior Associate for Colombia, (202) 797-2171 ext 205
Roger Atwood, Communications Director, (202) 797-2171 ext 211; cell (202) 316-3857
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS DEMAND ACTION
ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN COLOMBIA
Five members of Congress said today that Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s government needs to punish the murderers of labor leaders and investigate other atrocities before U.S. lawmakers can consider voting for a trade deal with Colombia. They spoke as President Uribe visited Congress for the second time in as many months.
The five – Representatives Phil Hare, Jan Schakowsky, Linda Sanchez, Jim McGovern and Betty Sutton – spoke at a news conference sponsored by the Washington Office on Latin America, TransAfrica Forum, Latin American Working Group, U.S. Office on Colombia, AFL-CIO, and other human rights, labor, and religious organizations. (For the complete list, please click here.)
Congressman Hare, a Democrat who represents the 17th District of Illinois, noted his own background as a labor leader said: “I am a trade unionist. If I had been born in Colombia, there is a strong possibility I would not be here with you today. I could very well be dead.”
He added that he “cannot in good conscience vote to enter into a free trade agreement with a country whose record on labor is nothing short of shameful.” (To read Rep. Hare’s full statement, click here.)
Congresswoman Schakowsky noted the extremely high levels of violence against labor leaders in Colombia, with 72 killed last year alone, and the fact that nearly all these killings have gone unpunished.
“Although the Uribe Administration seems to have recognized that the continuing high level of violence against trade unionists constitutes a major roadblock to U.S. congressional approval of the Colombian FTA [Free Trade Agreement], they have failed to stop the killings or prosecute those involved,” said Congresswoman Schakowsky, a Democrat who represents the 9th district of Illinois.
“Mr. Uribe has come back to Washington too soon,” she added. “Come back next year, Mr. Uribe, and let’s see what has actually been accomplished in investigating and prosecuting political and military leaders who have collaborated with brutal paramilitaries.” (To read Rep. Schakowsky’s full statement, click here.)
Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, a Democrat representing the 39th district of California, recently returned from her second visit to Colombia in less than seven months. She expressed her opposition to the Colombian trade agreement as currently written and called on President Uribe to take the initiative in improving it.
“I’d like to see President Uribe take the lead for a better trade agreement. President Uribe should prove – not just promise and not just declare – his commitment to lowering the rate of violence against worker advocates. This would include meeting certain benchmarks before any agreement came into effect,” including “increased prosecution of offenders over at least a two-year period.” (To read Rep. Sanchez’s full statement, click here.)
Congressman Jim McGovern (pictured at right above), Democrat from the 3rd district of Massachusetts, said he personally liked President Uribe but that, in Congress, the Colombian leader “doesn’t like the message he’s hearing: human rights, human rights, human rights.”
McGovern added, “President Uribe just wants his military aid and a free trade agreement, without strings or accountability. And then he seems angry and confused when we say ‘no.’” He praised the “very brave people who, because of their dedication, compassion and integrity, find themselves on the receiving end of death threats, harassment and even denunciation by government officials. Many end up being murdered themselves.”
Finally, Congresswoman Betty Sutton (pictured at left above), a Democrat representing the 13th district of Ohio, called for the Bush Administration to back up its rhetoric on human rights with action in Colombia.
“Where is the outrage and concern from President Bush, who on Human Rights Day last year, said, ‘we cherish the freedom of every person in every nation and strive to promote respect for human rights’? Instead of turning words into action, we get from this administration an attempt to enact a U.S.-Colombian free-trade agreement. What does that tell the families of those murdered in Colombia? What does that tell the world about America’s priorities?” (To read Rep. Sutton's full statement, click here .)
Other speakers were José Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas Program at Human Rights Watch; Nicole Lee, executive director of TransAfrica Forum; Renata Rendón, advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA; Jeff Vogt, global economic policy specialist at AFL-CIO; and John Jairo Garcés, co-founder of Un Día de Esperanza, an organization of Colombians living in the United States and the son of a labor leader slain by presumed paramilitaries in Buenaventura, Colombia.
The Washington Office on Latin America is a non-governmental organization that promotes human rights, democracy, and social and economic justice in U.S. policy towards Latin America.