On May 15, the United States and its traditionally close ally Colombia took further measures to promote free trade in the region. The negotiations that took place in 2006 under the Bush Administration are finally being implemented, after more than five years of being held up in congress. The Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is designed to lower tariffs, increase competition, and bolster trade mobility in both regions. BBC reports that “the pact means a wide variety of goods, including machinery, raw materials and agricultural products, can be traded without import tariffs needing to be paid.” The United States International Trade Commission in its report, U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement: Potential Economy-wide and Selected Sectoral Effects, touts the benefits of the new agreement, announcing “U.S. exports to Colombia may be higher by approximately $1.1 billion, U.S. imports from Colombia may be higher by $487 million, and U.S. GDP higher by about $2.5 billion, representing an increase of less than 0.05 percent of U.S. GDP.”
Although this may seem like a step in the right direction for trade, the deal has attracted criticism from Democratic congress-members, human rights activists, and Latin America policy experts who have critiqued the policy for not addressing the “record of violence against trade union leaders.” These various parties are all concerned with Colombia’s problematic relationship with trade unions.
Human rights activists and Latin American policy experts have raised concerns over Colombia’s ongoing hostility towards trade union leaders. With almost 3,000 murders of trade unionists since 1986, Colombia is widely regarded as the world’s most dangerous place to be a trade unionist. Impunity for anti-union crimes is widespread and remains a tremendous concern for people who object to the FTA. Human Rights Watch Report 2012 reports that trade union deaths in Colombia are greater than in any other country in the world. According to the National Labor School (ENS), Colombia’s leading NGO monitoring labor rights, 51 trade unionists were murdered in 2008, 47 in 2009, 51 in 2010, and 26 from January to November 15, 2011.
When Colombian vice-president Angelino Garzon was asked by Al-Jazeera about trade unions and worker rights, he rejected claims that Colombia was anti-trade union, stating, “In this country there is no institutional violence against workers. We protect workers and we protect people who own companies. We protect unions and all the workers and the institutions of democracy, and we give people the right to get into the unions and organise collectively."
Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) disagrees. “What Colombia has done is change the rhetoric,” she writes. “They don’t attack trade unions, accuse them of being terrorists anymore. They say wonderful things about them. However, what they say and what is actually happening on the ground is completely contradictory.”
Although the majority of Republican congress-members such as John Boehner and Mitch McConnell support the FTA, Democratic Party members Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are finding themselves at odds with the president’s new stance on Latin American trade policy. Both Pelosi and Reid expressed concern that the new FTA would not encourage much-needed domestic job growth and does not address the human rights violations against Colombian trade unionists.
Talking to The Hill, Pelosi “added her skepticism about the number of jobs that could be created by the trade deals…Pelosi called it ‘debatable’ that the trade deals would have created jobs if passed when President George W. Bush pressed Congress to take them up several years ago.” Reid and Pelosi have also been skeptical that the Colombian government has taken effective measures to combat anti-union and anti-democratic labor positions with the country.
In spite of the anti-union activity in Colombia, the Obama administration has decided to push forward with the trade agreement. In a joint speech delivered by Presidents Obama and Santos in Bogota a month before the FTA’s implementation, the Obama administration heralded the “significant progress” that had been made by the Colombian legislature and executive toward more democratic activity, and affirmed that “Colombia will continue to have a strong partner in the United States.” This democratic progress seems minimal if any, according to a study conducted by the Washington Office on Latin America: “Since Presidents Santos and Obama signed an action plan to ensure the protection of labor rights a year ago on April 7, 2011 over 28 trade unionist had been killed, 2 have been disappeared, and there have been more than 500 death threats.”
- Rocky Road to Gender Equality in Latin America
- Uribe vs Santos Feud Could Cripple Colombia
- Free Trade Agreement Ignores Colombian History of Violence Against Trade Unions
- Free-Trade Deal May Prove Greater Obstacle to Colombian Peace Than FARC
- Mexicans Romanticizing Drug Kingpins Reflects Lack of Confidence
- Fighting Drug Cartels Exposes Mexican Military to Corruption
- Mexico's Boring Election Won't Be A Bore
- Mexican President Calderon: Kingpin of the Kingpin Strategy
- Arrest of Mexican General for Cartel Connections May Be Purely Political
- Truce Between Salvador's Maras for Real -- for Now
- Corporations and Campesinos Clash Again in Peru
- The Potential of Cuba's Search for Oil
- Politics Crippling Latin American Universities
- Juanes Hits Right Note On Education
- United States Unlikely To Condemn Argentina's 'Outlaw Behavior' -- Yet
- Who Lost Latin America?
- Florida Law Against Cuba May Help Cuba
- Honduras: Sovereignty for Sale
- Honduras Coup Delivering a Bloody Return
- Latin America Delivers a Good, Swift Kick to the United States
- Latin American Countries Raising Trade Barriers Despite Vows to 'Connect The Americas'
- Regional Security, Not Iran, Primary Focus in Latin America
- One Laptop Per Child Plan Has a Future
- Argentina's Grab of Oil Firm: Bad Idea, Worse Timing
- Argentine President Takes It on the Chin
- Drug War Will Change Course in 2013
- Winning the Drug War and Rebuilding Mexico in the Process
- Mexico's Plan to Create a Paramilitary Force
- The Capital of Colombia Says, 'Farewell to Arms'
- Wal-Mart de Mexico: The Mexican Job
- Brazil Has Become A Disoriented Giant
- Argentina Hurts Itself in Falklands/Malvinas
- Falklands: Masterclass in UN Tactics
- American Gun Lobby Could Help Stop Mexico's Violence
- The U.S. Embargo Against Cuba: Washington's Sterile Havana Strategy
- Our Failed Cuba Policy Fixation
- Everybody Won and Lost in Pope's Trip to Cuba
- Latin American Schools: Disconnected
- Colombia's New Counterinsurgency Plan
- With the Focus on Syria, Mexico Burns
- Bolivian President Bows to Pressure and Cancels Amazon Highway
- Latin American Presidents Scrutinize 'War on Drugs'
- Iran's Quest to Expand its Diplomatic Frontiers in Latin America
- Latin Americans Complain of 'Ineptocracies'
- Chile's Interest in the Falkland Islands Dispute
- Region's First 'Virtual Summit' Should Set The Trend
- United States Should Treat Brazil Like India
- Mexico's Violence is Up, and So is Tourism
- Cardinal's Action Clouds Pope's Visit To Cuba
- Rethinking Latin America
- Chavez's Health Will Impact Venezuelan Elections
- Obama Should Take the Offensive on Cuba
- Pro-Drug Legalization Forces Gaining Clout
- Central America is No Somalia, But Close
Courtesy: Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA)