In the final debate of the 2008 Presidential Election, “trade” got mentioned 20 times. The issue’s still not quite as popular as Joe the Plumber’s 26 shout outs, but at least it was discussed, albeit briefly.
The candidates first discussed NAFTA, then the issue of off-shoring and American worker displacement related to so-called "Free Trade Agreements" (FTAs). Obama stressed that “we've got to have a president who is going to be advocating on behalf of American businesses and American workers,” while McCain responded that he would support “education and training programs for displaced workers”.
And still, right after acknowledging that these FTAs are sending American jobs overseas, McCain proposed that the Colombian FTA would actually “help us create jobs in America because they will be a market for our goods and products”.
Obama missed the opportunity to further discuss the fundamental problems with FTAs by expressing ardent support for the Peru FTA, but he did bring up human-rights issues with the Colombian FTA. “The history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders have been targeted for assassination on a fairly consistent basis and there have not been prosecutions,” Obama said, “We have to stand for human rights and we have to make sure that violence isn't being perpetrated against workers who are just trying to organize for their rights.”
Apparently McCain had some thoughts about Obama’s words on union leader assassinations, because right in the middle of Obama’s statement, McCain clearly rolled his eyes at the comment!
Though Obama brought up the union killings, this still shows that it’s not clear that either candidate is completely aware of the real situation in Colombia. Constant protests and violence, Afro-Colombian and indigenous persecution, Uribe-infused misinformation by the media, and all around suppression of basic human rights and freedoms. These issues were glossed over with vapid attacks on both sides. McCain scolded Obama for never having visited the country while at the same time calling Colombian President Uribe “our best ally in the region”.
This is the same president who has seen 434 union leaders murdered in the first six years of being in power. This debate took place on the same day that the Colombian army wounded 60 and killed 2 while confronting an indigenous protest, one that Uribe claims is “infiltrated” with terrorists and carrying out “massacres” on police. Yet, as delineated in a recent report by Human Rights Watch, it’s not the indigenous who are infiltrated with terrorists or carrying out massacres, it’s the Uribe government. There have been multiple reports showing findings of direct connections between the Colombian government and right-wing paramilitary death squads. It is all too clear that this is a brutal government the U.S. should not directly link to and support through an FTA.
And just as a side note, Joe the Plumber--if he were really a licensed plumber--would be a member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters union (UA) which is part of the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO opposes the Colombian FTA and UA was in fact the first union to endorse Barack Obama.
(Disclosure: GTW has no preference among the candidates.)