Friday, July 06, 2007

US Must Reject Giving Colombia More Money, Trade Preferences

While the right-wing in Colombia is trying to distract public opinion from the ever growing "para-gate" scandal, it appears Democrats in the US may finally be ready to put human rights concerns over narrow business and foreign policy (anti-Chavez) considerations. Or at least lets hope so, as the Bush Administration is giving this a full court press.

By Mark Weisbrot
Washington Post

A May 22 news report in The Washington Post summed up Colombia's ever-widening scandal: "Top paramilitary commanders have in recent days confirmed what human rights groups and others have long alleged: some of Colombia's most influential political, military and business figures helped build a powerful anti-guerrilla movement that operated with impunity, killed civilians and shipped cocaine to U.S. cities."

Yet the Bush administration wants to sign a "free trade" agreement with Colombia, which is the Bush administration's closest ally in Latin America and receives $700 million annually in mostly military aid. Congress is threatening to block the agreement, and they should.

The word "paramilitary" is a euphemism. In the 1980s, when the Reagan administration was supporting the mass murder of tens of thousands of civilians in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador, these organizations were called "death squads."

The Colombian death squads -- which are classified as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department -- were mostly demobilized in recent years under an agreement that allows lenient sentences for the murderers in exchange for telling the truth about their crimes. But the truth has shown increasingly close ties between the death squads and high-ranking allies of President Alvaro Uribe. More than a dozen legislators, mostly Uribe allies, have been arrested, and his foreign minister has resigned. As the investigation progresses, including to President Uribe's home state, it is becoming clear that the death squads have been an integral part of the government.

One of the most sinister revelations has been the government's role in the murder of trade unionists, which continues despite the incomplete demobilization. Last year 72 trade unionists were killed, making Colombia the most dangerous place in the world by far for a union activist. According to witnesses cooperating with the Colombian Attorney General's office, the government's intelligence services provided names and security details of union activists to the death squads. The former chief of the intelligence service -- who managed Uribe's 2002 presidential campaign in the state of Magdalena -- has been arrested and charged with conspiring with the death squads to kill union leaders and others.

Over the past three decades the United States has greatly expanded trade with -- and moved factories to -- countries where workers have limited rights to form unions or bargain collectively. One of the main purposes of such commercial agreements as the NAFTA and the WTO has been to reduce wages here by throwing U.S. workers into competition with their much lower-paid counterparts throughout the world. Partly as a result of these policies, the average real wage in the United States has hardly moved over the last 30 years, despite productivity increases every year. These "free trade" agreements have therefore become increasingly unpopular, and this issue helped tip the balance of Congress to the Democrats in the 2006 election.

These agreements have also lost popularity in Latin America, where the governments of Ecuador and Bolivia -- accountable to their voters -- cannot sign the kind of agreement that Colombia and Peru are willing to accept. All four countries currently have access to U.S. markets under the ATPDEA (Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act). But some Republicans in Congress are threatening that duty-free access in order to punish Ecuador and Bolivia for not signing a "free trade" agreement, and for not being sufficiently subservient to foreign investors. This kind of bullying will not force these governments to ignore their electoral mandates and will only increase resentment against the United States in the region.

Congress should allow a two-year extension of the current ATPDEA, and reject the agreements with Colombia and Peru. Approving the Colombian agreement would send an especially chilling message to the world that Washington is seeking access to cheap and repressed labor -- and doesn't care how much violence is used to terrorize workers into submission.



Blogger jsb said...

That many people in the streets protesting and you call it a distraction? I'd say your post is a distraction.

1:53 PM  
Blogger leftside said...

The Government called these marches to distract from the mounting bad news. The latest is the ex-secret police chief was thrown in prison.

6:05 PM  
Blogger jsb said...

And FARC, who share your world views on socialism, killed 11 legislators. Perhaps the government didn't need to "call" the marches. Sometimes, unlike in your favorite country Cuba, marches are spontaneous.

4:54 AM  
Blogger leftside said...

I am not going to defend kidnappers. But
we will see about your (and the whole establishment's) assumption that FARC murdered the 11 in cold blood. If they were indeed attacked, then those who led the reckless and illegal raid also share some blame (and the right, media and US Govt will all have to eat crow)

BTW, here is what President Uribe said July 3 while discussing the potential for an accord with the ELN: “I have to thank President Castro for all the help Cuba has given.” And this relationship with ELN is numero uno for why Cuba is a state sponsor of terror. If anyone in Latin America has been shown to have links with terrorists, it is Uribe's governing party and top security officials.

10:02 PM  
Blogger jsb said...

Jesus, you can't even condemn FARC. You're a real winner, man. A real winner.

5:08 AM  
Blogger jsb said...

I suppose, in addition to being an apologist for the murderer Castro, FARC, etc...that you approve of your comrades making quick work of the people's infrastructure in Mexico?

Or have you ever met a left-leaning revolutionary that you're not in love with... ?

7:53 AM  
Blogger jsb said...

Thankfully, ALL of you old-line marxists are a dying breed. We will outlast you.

7:54 AM  
Blogger leftside said...

I thought I made it clear that I don't condone kidnapping or murder. I was just getting your facts straight (to which there was no reply as usual). I will "condemn" FARC and the pipeline bombers as soon as you condemn Uribe, his family and his Party for their links to state sponsored terrorism.

As for the right-wing outlasting the left - never. This new generation is realizing capitalism is the poison pill, which me must regurgatate. Maybe in small doses -but enough of us allowing it to wreck our bodies, our neighborhoods, cities and States. You obviously have not been to a recent march or protest where the young people wearing Che is probably the #1 thing you see. If we don't change the planet is doomed, simple as that.

9:19 AM  

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