President Bush has made a serious error in submitting a trade agreement with Colombia to Congress. WOLA calls on Congress to reject the agreement as written.
Colombia has one of the worst records on human rights protection in the Western Hemisphere and the highest number of murders of trade unionists in the world. Passage of the trade deal would remove any leverage the United States might have in holding the Colombian government accountable for ending impunity and preventing future attacks on trade unionists, human rights defenders, Afro-Colombians, indigenous peoples, and many others.
“The Uribe government makes concerned noises about human rights but does not act like it recognizes the seriousness of the problem or the damage that has been done,” said Vicki Gass, WOLA’s Senior Associate for Rights and Development. “We have concerns that passage of the agreement would be followed by a surge in attacks against critics of the free trade agreement in Colombia.”
Supporters have offered “national security” rationales for the agreement. Such arguments ring hollow. The United States’ long-term strategic interests in Latin America have been grievously damaged in the past by support for governments, like that of Colombia, that call themselves “pro-American” while disregarding fundamental human rights. By rejecting the trade agreement, Congress will show that the United States holds countries with which it signs permanent economic integration agreements to basic standards for respect for human rights and the rule of law.
The Colombian government and the trade agreement’s supporters point to figures showing lower levels of violence in recent years. Yet the first quarter of 2008 has seen an upsurge in attacks and threats on human rights defenders, as well as continued killings of union leaders. No fewer than 12 trade unionists have been murdered this year in Colombia, adding to the more than 2,200 since 1991.
Instead of answering concerns about these attacks and those against trade unionists, President Alvaro Uribe and members of his government have responded by contemptuously dismissing the concerns or questioning the motives of critics. This attitude is unworthy of a government that seeks the highest level of economic integration with the United States.
Apart from its concerns about human rights, WOLA has serious and well-founded reservations about the agreement’s potential impact on Colombia’s rural workers, small farmers and internally displace persons (IDPs).
Vicki Gass, Senior Associate for Rights and Development, [email protected]
Roger Atwood, Director of Communications, [email protected]