Colombia â€œFree Tradeâ€? Is Harmful
The agreements have all marginalized human rights concerns while only paying lip service to the strengthening of democratic institutions. None have ever included any anti-racist provisions or equal opportunity encouragements or demands to respect the land rights of indigenous or African descendant populations.
The human rights situation in Colombia—Latin Americas’ third largest country—is appalling and should be clearly and unequivocally condemned by all members of Congress, but especially the Congressional Black Caucus given the abuses faced by the Afro-Columbians.
The free trade agreement, as proposed, is not about fair trade and in effect would further exacerbate human rights violations and environmental degradation in
During the Bush Administration’s two terms,
In the period since that agreement was signed,
Additionally, efforts to address so-called “narco-terrorism” and have only netted additional
The newly proposed free trade deal would be nothing more than an economic extension of Plan
These types of agreements only benefit transnational corporations and the local elite. Liberalized trade and more privatization of state owned industries will only mean less public spending on education, health care, social security and electricity. It will also mean more spending by citizens on basic necessities such as food, water, housing, and transportation. The impact of such an agreement in the
In fact, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, human rights violations have not disappeared over that period and are of such a dreadful magnitude today that they cannot be relegated to a secondary category or a practically meaningless side agreement. The government of
Amnesty International believes that there has been a phony demobilization of the expected 25,000 paramilitaries which may actually result in de facto amnesties for horrific human rights violators.
Human Rights Watch also believes that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s claims of demobilization are unfounded. As evidence in support of its position, Human Rights Watch points to an Organization of American States report that identified 22 illegally armed groups in which paramilitary are actively recruiting new troops and are participating in drug trafficking, extortion, selective killings and forced displacement of citizens.
Moreover, the continuation of the violence in
Indigenous communities are completely disrespected and ignored. And the state has become a permanent war machine. The latest United Nations human development report shows 70% of the country’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of the top 20% of the population while 64% of its citizens are impoverished. In fact, the Colombian Gini Index, an economic measure of inequality, is virtually the same as that of
Finally, it should be noted that President Uribe is embroiled in a scandal involving high ranking officials in his Administration and some 40 Congressmen over their links to the paramilitaries. Afro-Colombians constitute between 26% and 40% (the exact percentage is disputed because of self-identification options and the government’s desire to decrease the size of the population) of
South America, following the estimated 60% of
According to Piadad Cordoba Ruiz, former Afro Colombian Senator,
The Inter-American Development Bank has reported that over 90% of the Afro-Colombian population lives on less than 2 U.S. dollars a day. 74% have no access to health care. Less than 30% of Afro-Colombian children attend high school. Fewer ever attend college. And similar to the situation of African Americans in the
Because of marginalization, exclusion, racial discrimination, the location of the conflict/fighting and targeted fumigation effort, Afro-Colombians have been hardest hit by internal displacement. From 1995 to 2005, 62% of Afro-Colombians were forced to flee their land. Whole communities such as San Jose de Buey, La Vuelta, Curuchi, San Antonio de Buey, Auroduey, Chibuja and Mansa have been displaced. Afro-Colombians in others communities have lost their land to oil and mining interests connected to the paramilitaries.
More recently, 265 Afro-Colombian young people were massacred. The slaughter of those young people has never been fully addressed by the Uribe government.
Why is this happening to Afro-Colombians? It is occurring because they are vulnerable and the land that they occupy is so valuable. Plans are afoot to construct a new
Recognizing that serious challenges to current U.S. policy exists, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently traveled with a delegation of Democratic lawmakers, who apparently needed to be convinced first-hand of the so-called “progress” being made in Colombia. Some have already shown where they stand and obviously intend to use the trip to rationalize their vote in support of the trade agreement. But let’s be clear on what their vote will really mean. It will mean more of the same: more deaths and misery; more marginalization and social exclusion; and more humiliation, exploitation, internal displacement and migration.
Some of the democrats traveling with the Secretary oppose House Resolution 618, which simply calls for the United States Congress to recognize the plight of Afro-Colombians. Why members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who routinely support resolutions that recognize the plight of Israeli civilians, would oppose such a common sense resolution, is daunting?
At the same time it does suggest that some members must be placing a greater value on their relationship to corporate interests and prefer to remain insensitive to the very visible human rights abuses, environmental damage, health problems and displacement from land historically occupied by Afro-Colombians before Bolivar’s liberation wars, that’s now being fumigated and poisoned by herbicides (supplied by some of the same U.S. Corporations that make contributions to their campaigns) that are sprayed from U.S. piloted planes.
Perhaps we should not expect more from the Democrats than we do from the Republicans. If that is the case, then the Democrats should discontinue their loud rhetoric about reclaiming the “moral high ground” with regard to the promotion of human rights in our foreign policies or restoring respect for the
While Secretary Rice is lobbying for the free trade deal on the basis of rewarding Uribe’s government for its pursuit of pro-market neo-liberal reforms at a time when many of its neighbors are instituting pro-poor statist policies, millions of Colombia’s citizens are caught in the crossfire in a low intensity war zone where state supported right-wing militias, the Colombian military, left-wing guerillas and drug warlords operate with impunity.
The rewards for Uribe appear to be consistent with the repugnant Bush policy of providing assistance to “friendly” governments who support the
Uribe is President Bush’s friend and ally -- they both have a penchant for showing off their cowboy skills.
They also have something else in common -- an extraordinary ability to remain oblivious to perplexing human rights violations committed in the name of national security. Hopefully, well intended Black elected officials will not develop that skill while accepting campaign contributions from corporate lobbyist.
Those who see “progress” need to look again, this time with their eyes and not their hands.
Dr. Keith Jennings is an internationally recognized Human Rights and Democracy Expert. He is a former Director of Citizens Participation Programs at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and a former Regional Director at Amnesty International USA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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