As the U.S. Congress gets closer to ratifying the pending Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Colombia, it is important to consider the implications of such an agreement. The U.S. currently has active free trade agreements with 17 countries , including Chile, Peru, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador Honduras and Nicaragua in Latin America and the Caribbean. Along with having signed FTAs with Colombia, the Obama admisistration has also signed FTAs with Panama and South Korea, both which are also pending legisltive action in Congress. In both the 2010 and 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama has talked about these free trade agreements as a crucial component to the recovery of the U.S. economy. President Obamba has met with both former Colombian President Uribe and the current President Santos.
What has not been talked about by the Obama administration or the mainstream media are the reasons for concern in an FTA with Colombia. As mentioned in previous posts, Colombia has the highest number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Western Hemisphere, and the second highest in the world, behind the Sudan. The ongoing conflict since the 1960s in Colombia between Marxist guerrillas, paramilitaries (both of whom are involved in the production and trafficking of cocaine) and the government of Colombia has taken the worst toll on Colombian civilians, particularly margenalized groups such as its indigenous and afro-Colombian communities. To this day, the guerrillas have hostages in their custody, an indication that the conflict in Colombia is continues to exist.
More directly relevant to the FTA, Colombia is also known to be among one of the most dangerous places to be a union leader (in 2010, it was listed as the worst by People's World ). According to a recently relased UN report from the High Commissioner of Human Rights, in 2010, 26 trade unionists were specifically targetted and killed in Colombia.
According to a brief released earlier this year by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a great deal of workers rights in Colombia are not fully met. WOLA bases this analysis on research done on the ground in Valle de Cauca, Colombia, analyzing the sugar cane sector. The analysis includes first hand accounts of workers in the sugar cane sector as well as recommendations for improvements. One of these recommendations is to further postpone the U.S.-Colombia FTA until labor rights are met.
Mainstream media does not present these perspectives but it is worth considering before the FTA is ratified by Congress.
The video below is a report by Global Report outlining some of the issues: