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AFL "unalterably opposed" to Colombia FTA

There have been recent ruminations that the Dems might actually consider bringing the Colombia FTA to the floor next year (ie the November 2 Inside U.S. Trade story entitled, "Rangel Willing To Consider Colombia FTA Next Year If Support Warrants"). But unlike with the Peru deal, the AFL-CIO is taking a hard line on this one, saying it "remains unalterably opposed" to the Colombia FTA. In a letter sent to both the House and Senate last Thursday, the day of the Peru vote, the AFL said:

"...two trade union leaders were murdered in Colombia within the last week... These murders are only the most recent and tragic reminders of the danger experienced by our Colombian brothers and sisters... More troubling, the vast majority of those responsible for the over 2,200 murders of trade unionists since 1991 are still at large and face no criminal charges. Even with the recent convictions, the impunity rate remains over 97 percent... passing the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement at this time would cost the United States considerable leverage over Colombia to encourage continued progress on human rights."

Attached to the letter is a laundry list of issues of concern, which could be summarized thusly:

  • There are still more murders of trade unionists in Colombia than in any other country.
  • The rate of impunity for the murder of trade unionists from 1991-2007 is between 97 and 98 percent.
  • Dialogue between unions and the government is sorely lacking, and the ILO Office in Colombia lacks the political support, funding and staffing necessary to adequately fulfill its role (and its mandate will expire in October 2008).
  • Colombia's labor laws are not in compliance with core ILO standards.

Read the full text of the letter, as well as the attachment, here (PDF).

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What does the trend data show?

It's difficult to judge whether or not the Colombian government is seriously fighting the assassination problem without that information.

Brandon Wu

Best info on trends is at USLEAP - - according to their research, murders are down from the peak in the early 2000s (but still extremely high, ranging from 70-90 each year in the past 4 years), but convictions have been flat at 1-3/year or so.


Thank you for the trend data! Very interesting information. It seems that Colombia has made some steps towards fixing the problem, but clearly there is far more to do. The 78 investigators and 13 special prosecutors is a start, but the convictions need to start piling up. Otherwise the killing will continue with impunity.

However, I think it's important to note the context of Colombia's crime problem. Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries. They have a huge drug gang problem and a civil war going on. And for decades the police and army have been corrupt.

Uribe has begun to change all that. The murder rate was 65.8 per 100000 in 2002 (before Uribe), now it's 39.3 per. (I won't hold my breath waiting for Public Citizen or the AFL-CIO to give him any credit for anything.)

It makes sense that the most calculated killings are the hardest for a government struggling under these circumstances to stop. That's why it's so insulting for the AFL-CIO to be unalterably opposed on the grounds of the assassinations issue (they should stick to economics). They are denying the difficulty of the problem in effect, demanding that the government perform miracles.

By stating that they are "unalterably" opposed and calling for aid cuts, they undermine their ability to exert meaningful pressure on Uribe by taking away possible incentives. The proposed aid cuts are especially worrisome at a time whenwe hould be encouraging reform in Colombia. Take a lesson Bush's mistakes, threatening countries instead of negotiating with them does little to help your objectives.

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