Volume 21, Number 6
Mississippi’s SB 2988
Bruce k. Gagnon
A War on Communities
Z magazine Readers
Sean Bell Verdict
Damming the Flood
Triumph of Lunacy
Dr. Wall Street
Colombia Trade Deal
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Colombia "Free Trade" Deal
Elites and their media overlook pile of corpses in quest for profits
A proposed "free trade" deal with
Some of the sordid elements include payments to high-level Democratic figures, including former President Bill Clinton, to speak out in behalf of the trade deal favored by extreme right-wing presidents in both the
Despite the evident failures of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to benefit ordinary workers and farmers in either the U.S. or Mexico, the Colombia FTA—currently being considered by the U.S. House—uses NAFTA as a model and then goes even further in enshrining the powers of corporations to sue elected governments over regulations that might diminish profits. Even though the trade deal is opposed by every American labor group and Colombian union federation, many Democrats are working hard to ram through this trade deal while proclaiming that their party represents working people.
But the most stunning aspect of the Colombia FTA is the willingness of corporate, political (including leaders of both major parties), and media elites to overlook the pile of workers' corpses that
Yet the pursuit of "class cleansing" by
Editorials from the "liberal" New York Times to the rightist Wall Street Journal beseech us to ignore the body count and instead see the bigger picture, insisting that a "free trade" deal with this blood-soaked nation must be enacted because it "would benefit the American economy and further the nation's broader interests in Latin America," as the Times put it.
The systematic killings and torture of union activists, along with kidnappings of family members, is described delicately as
The fact that the death toll among unionists has dropped, having achieved its desire affect of driving the percentage of union contracts to just two percent, is hailed as a great feat under President Alvara Uribe. Less publicized than the falling death toll among unionists is the fact that 400 have been killed since Uribe took office in 2002 and that
Nonetheless, as two Times columns (Edward Schumacher-Matos of
Among those trumpeting
Meanwhile, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof warns that if Democrats were to reject the
The Colombia FTA follows in the footsteps of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which provided new protections to investor rights and enormously enriched elites in the
"The FTA goes beyond NAFTA in several ways," explains Tucker. "For one, it will give oil, gas and mining corporations in the Colombian Amazon additional tools to challenge future Colombian governments' efforts to protect the rainforest."
The FTA with
The influx of
Few benefits are seen for Colombians who are not part of the nation's wealthiest classes. "What the FTA does is lock in and codify a neoliberal relationship between the two countries," notes Tucker, "meaning
While various editorials have claimed that the Uribe government has taken aggressive steps to insure union rights, observers say that his government actually opposes labor rights every step of the way. The AFL-CIO's Thea Lee contrasted the rhetoric of President Uribe with the difficulties that Colombian unionists outlined to her.
"If you listened to Uribe, you'd think he was the greatest lover of labor rights in the world," Lee says. "But the workers face obstacle after obstacle in trying to organize, trying to get government recognition, the government failing to enforce the law if illegal firings occur—every single action is to deny workers the right to unionize."
"Only about 2 percent have collective bargaining contracts; and about 5 percent are union members," says Lee. "That puts
David Sirota, author of The Uprising, argues that with the Colombia FTA, "President Bush [aims to] bolster Uribe with a pact giving corporations incentives to leave
The AFL-CIO's Thea Lee sees a powerful coalition pushing for the Colombia FTA that includes the Bush administration,
The Colombian government has particularly sought to bring "moderate" Democrats and congressional staffers on the junkets. During these tours, they meet with purported "labor leaders" urging passage of the FTA. But the AFL-CIO notes that almost all of these "leaders" hold no official standing and that all of
Few political observers will be surprised by the Bush administration's willingness to overlook the deaths of trade unionists in order to enlarge the "free trade" web to include
But more remarkable has been the extent of support for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement among insider Democratic forces. While both Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have proclaimed their opposition to the Colombia FTA, the authenticity of their stance against "free trade" is highly dubious (see John Nichols, "Trade Issues Trouble Leading Dems," the Nation, 4/4/08).
Bill Clinton has also been closely aligned with the
In June 2007,
Still, despite the array of powerful forces pushing for it, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement may face a tough path to passage. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dealt the proposal a powerful blow in early April by insisting on a vote that revoked the "fast-track" process that has been used to ram through "free trade agreements" like NAFTA with limited debate and without amendment. One trade expert describes the fast-track powers conceded to
Opponents of corporate globalization like Todd Tucker saw Pelosi's move as a major step forward in blocking the Colombia FTA and promoting a more thorough deliberation of trade that will hopefully provide the chance to separate Congress from its close embrace of corporate campaign contributors and bring it more in line with strong public resistance to the shift of jobs to low-wages nations, the importation of toxic products, and the spread of environmental degradation. (A 2006 Pew Research poll found 77 percent of Americans opposed to the outsourcing of
"Speaker Pelosi's decision to cancel Fast Track was unprecedented," said Tucker. "It is highly laudable that she reasserted Congress's constitutional authority over trade. Public Citizen, the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, and many other groups will be dedicating our full resources to ensure that the Colombia FTA is defeated by Congress."
But other critics, like Sirota, are troubled by hints that Pelosi—who backed a recent trade agreement with
Pelosi's implicit "message" to Sirota and other opponents of the corporate globalization agenda is that she might eventually be brought around to supporting the Colombia FTA, especially if Bush makes concessions on issues like an economic stimulus package geared toward working families and more retraining benefits to workers dislocated by the flight of industry to Mexico, China, and other low-wage, high-repression nations. Sirota suggests that a vote on the Colombia FTA might be delayed until the lame-duck session after the November election, when the public's ability to hold Congress is minimized.
"The trade deal isn't being delayed because it would pass now—it is being delayed because if it came to a vote now, it would probably lose because populist Democratic forces are better organized right now," Sirota wrote April 10. "In other words, Pelosi is maneuvering to thwart the will of the rank-and-file members of her caucus, all to keep a lobbyist-written trade deal alive."
Also sharing some of Sirota's concern is Roger Atwood, communications director of the Washington Office on
"Our position is that Colombia has not made anywhere near enough progress to introducing accountability into the government's action on human rights and ending impunity for the killings of trade unionists, which is still quite shocking," Atwood states. "Despite all the talk about violence lessening, there's been 23 unionists killed so far this year alone "
This escalation of military assistance, including training, was followed by the enactment of Plan
Yet it has had negligible impact on the growth of cocaine and marijuana in
Critics have noted that
Along with the Colombian military engaging in the bombings and strafing of villages, massacres of civilians, and other atrocities, a massive paramilitary force allied with business leaders and landowners conducted "social cleansing" operations of their own.
U.S.-owned firms have been connected closely to the paramilitary death-squads. Three Colombian unionists were killed at Drummond Mining, a U.S.-owned firm based in
While the temporary derailment of the Colombia FTA from fast-track status gives hope to those seeking to end Colombia's brutal and systematic suppression of worker rights, it also exposes the extent to which the Democratic establishment has embraced some of the most inhumane pillars of George W. Bush's policies.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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