Today, hundreds of activists gathered at the White House for a demonstration against the U.S.-Colombia FTA. These representatives of faith, labor, human rights and consumer organizations called for the Obama administration to drop its push to pass the Bush-signed trade pact. Fifty one coffins were laid in front of the White House to symbolize the murders of that number of Colombian unionists last year. Five activists were arrested as an act of civil disobedience, including Rick Chase, Executive Director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.
Read the press advisory after the break.
With Vote Looming, U.S. Groups and Threatened Colombian Workers Protest Obama’s Push for NAFTA Expansion with World’s Unionist Assassination Capital
Washington, D.C. — Activists from the United States and Colombia gathered in front of the White House today for a demonstration against the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The coalition – comprised of faith, labor, human rights and consumer organizations – called for the Obama administration to drop its push to pass the Bush-signed trade pact.
The activists decried the very notion that the United States would enter into a trade agreement with a country notorious worldwide for its systematic, extreme labor and human rights abuses, including forced displacement of its large Afro-descendent population and assassinations of Afro-Colombian, union, indigenous and other human rights leaders.
“U.S. congressional leadership and the Colombian government say that violence has dissipated in Colombia and we are on a roadmap towards peace and equality; yet, the reality is every day Afro-Colombians, indigenous, labor and land rights leaders are being threatened, tortured and killed. The government’s rhetoric does not add up to the truth,” said Nicole Lee, president of TransAfrica Forum.
Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, with 51 unionists killed last year – more than in all other countries combined – and at least 17 unionists killed so far this year. U.S. and Colombian labor unions agree that the Obama administration’s labor “Action Plan” does not fix these problems and even its limited provisions are largely unenforceable. They vigorously oppose the Colombia trade deal.
“The structure of the FTA will only encourage further exploitation of Colombian labor and land by large corporate interests – some of which are guilty of aiding and abetting paramilitary groups,” said Daniel Kovalik senior counsel for the United Steelworkers (USW) and attorney for Colombian plaintiffs in various human rights cases.
Demonstrators displayed 51 coffins in front of the White House to symbolize the Colombian union leaders murdered in 2010 alone.
“Workers are still being denied their most basic rights and the violence, and threats of violence, continue,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union. “Perhaps in the future, workers in Colombia will be able to exercise their basic rights without putting their lives in danger. That day is not here yet.”
Attacks on Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities and related human rights violations have left Colombia with the largest internally displaced population in the world, even greater than that of Sudan. The trade deal is projected to hurt these vulnerable populations.
“A free trade agreement at this time would only exacerbate Colombia’s humanitarian crisis by encouraging more large-scale agricultural and resource extraction projects that would push more communities off their ancestral lands and into greater poverty,” said Jess Hunter-Bowman, associate director of Witness for Peace. “At least 400,000 small farmers would lose 48 to 70 percent of their income, making it even harder for them to produce enough to survive without turning to illicit coca production.”
Many faith groups oppose the Colombia trade deal on similar grounds.
“As people of faith and good conscience, we have no choice but to oppose this agreement with every fiber in our being,” said Rick Ufford-Chase, executive director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. “God’s clear call, repeated over and over again in scripture, is to stand with the poor and to insist that all people are treated fairly. Candidate Obama was clear that he shared that understanding with us, and we expect President Obama to push back against the pressures from economic power brokers and reconsider this trade agreement with Colombia.”
President Barack Obama had previously opposed the Colombia deal. As a presidential candidate, he highlighted Colombia’s labor and human rights atrocities in a debate, and he pledged to replace the U.S. trade pact model, which is based on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“Most Americans oppose these NAFTA-style trade deals because they kill American jobs, but I suspect that if they knew that a U.S. trade deal would also benefit those who kill people for trying to exercise the basic rights we take for granted here, they would be even more outraged and disgusted,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.
Once the White House submits implementing legislation to Congress, the Colombia deal will be on a Fast Track timeline, meaning normal congressional procedures will be suspended. It could be submitted to Congress for a vote any day, with the White House pushing for passage before Congress leaves for August recess