The Canadian Press Whitewashes Canada, Colombia and "Free Trade"
On November 21, 2008
The Conservatives have not been able to convincingly sell Canadians on any supposed benefits they will receive from the deal. Trade with
In June of 2008, the Toronto Globe and Mail weighed in with an editorial supporting the agreement. The editors applauded the "success of the government of President Alvaro Uribe in bringing comparative peace to
"Mr. Uribe has not only targeted FARC, but has sought to de-fang the equally violent right-wing paramilitary groups that have also destabilized
That same month, Globe columnist Jeffrey Simpson also heaped praise on Uribe's government:
"The opponents say
Nearly a year later,
"Under Uribe, the insurgency has been contained, violence has abated and human rights abusers have been charged. But legislators have been linked to corruption, paramilitaries and cocaine traffickers."
The Toronto Star editors also wondered
"What more can
First of all, to answer the Toronto Star, Canadians should not expect their own government to make human rights a concern, never mind a priority, in its dealings with
In his recently published "Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy", Yves Engler described how two Canadian companies, BFC Construction and Agra-Monenco, (with the help of Jean Chretien's Liberal government) contributed to serious human rights violations in northeastern Colombia that impacted thousands of people. Engler's book, and the work of Rights Action among others, has exposed how Canadian resource companies - with crucial support from
Second, the Uribe government is highly criminal and corrupt. Canadians should demand that Uribe's government do the opposite of what it has done since coming to power. Most importantly, Canadians should listen to the victims in
Uribe's Human Rights Record
According to Amnesty International (AI), the killing of civilians in
Under Uribe, a fraudulent "demobilization" of the right wing paramilitaries has taken place. Both AI and HRW have described in detail how the "demobilization" left 30,000 paramilitaries untouched - not even investigated - and allowed them to consolidate wealth obtained by drug trafficking and land theft. About 70% of paramilitary wealth stems from the drug trade according to a 2003 report by HRW. The net result of the "demobilization" was summed up by HRW as follows
"...paramilitaries have made major gains in consolidating this impunity, along with their economic and political power, with the collusion of the Colombian government."
Paramilitaries have made
If all of this were not enough to establish that the Uribe government is thoroughly criminal, a UN probe recently confirmed that the Colombian military has been systematically murdering civilians and passing them off as FARC rebels. The UN investigator, Philip Anston, referred to the military's actions as "cold-blooded, premeditated murder of innocent civilians for profit". In April, the
FARC Victims Matter Most to the Press
Occasionally, some of the truth about Uribe's government has been hinted at - for example when the Toronto Star wrote that Colombian "legislators have been linked to corruption, paramilitaries and cocaine traffickers". Left unstated was that most of the legislators being investigated by the courts are from Uribe's governing coalition. Uribe's supporters have argued that he deserves credit for the fact that the investigations are taking place. Human Rights Watch has answered this argument as follows
"..these investigations are the result of an initiative by the Colombian Supreme Court - not the Uribe Administration. While Uribe has funded the court, he has often taken steps that could undermine the investigations, lashing out against Supreme Court Justices and even, at one point, floating a proposal to let the politicians avoid prison." 
Sadly, a well informed and hard hitting editorial about Uribe's government (however unlikely that is to appear) would have less impact than it should. The Canadian press has misled readers through more effective means than the occasional editorial or op-ed that praises Uribe.
According to a LexisNexis search of Canada's major newspapers (between June 2, 2008 - June 2, 2009) the following victims of the FARC guerillas were mentioned:
Ingrid Betancourt, politician [23 articles]
Marc Gonsalves, U.S. military contractors [1 article]
Horacio Palacios[1 article]
Oscar Tulio Lizcano[1 article]
The following paramilitary victims were mentioned
Amparo Torres (living in exile in Canada) [1 article]
Colombian TV journalist Hollman Morris (threatened) [1 article]
Kimy Pernia Domico [1 article]
Jorge Dario Hoyos Franco [1 article]
Admittedly, this is a crude way to sample the Canadian media's output but the results are too lopsided to invalidate some conclusions. Victims of the FARC receive way more attention than any others (by a ratio of 26:4 without even considering the greater level of detail that is usually reported about FARC victims). The impression is conveyed that the FARC - rather the government and its paramilitary allies - are
The paramilitary victims that were mentioned were better positioned than most to get noticed by the Canadian press. Amparo Torres was able to obtain (unfortunately precarious) refuge in
In 2003, I performed a similar exercise looking only at Toronto Star articles during a three month period. The results were essentially the same. At the time, paramilitary leader, Carlos Castaño, had stated that he was pleased with the US media's coverage of the conflict. He said that he was "relieved that now we are no longer being lumped into the same basket as the FARC". It is hard to imagine paramilitary leaders being any less pleased with the Canadian media's coverage in 2009. As consistently as human rights groups have shown that the Uribe government and its paramilitary allies are
It is worth noting that AI and HRW (especially HRW), whose reports are cited above, are hardly radical groups eager to challenge powerful interests. This was graphically revealed in the way they responded to the 2004 coup in
But Isn't Uribe Popular?
One would think that the Colombian government's horrific track record would lead to doubts about the validity of its democratic credentials. Even the relatively minor transgressions of the Uribe government should prompt considerable skepticism. The Colombian Supreme Court ruled that Yidis Medina, a former Colombian legislator, was bribed to vote in favor of allowing Uribe to run for a second term in 2006. Thirty three other legislators are under investigation for selling their votes on the matter. 
In fairness, independent and presumably reliable polls have found significant popular support for Uribe. Latinobarometro found 75% support for Uribe in 2008. However, two comments should be made that never appear in the press. 
One is that Uribe's level of popular support does not disprove the criminal nature of his government. After all, the near annihilation of indigenous peoples in
Another very important point is that attempting to erode Uribe's level of support through legitimate, democratic means is extremely dangerous in
For example, on March 6, 2008, Colombian trade unionists organized demonstrations against the ongoing crimes of the "demobilized" paramilitaries. Within a week after the demonstrations, four of the unionists involved with organizing it had been murdered. HRW and 22 other groups, including Amnesty International, wrote an open letter to Uribe denouncing slanderous remarks that a key advisor of his had broadcast against the organizers 
According to a LexisNexis search, none of Canada's major newspapers mentioned the demonstrations, the murder of the organizers or the open letter to Uribe by human rights groups.
Rather than report the well established pattern of Uribe's wild accusations preceding grave crimes against his opponents, the Canadian press has often treated Uribe's allegations as if nothing could be more credible.
An extreme example of this was the Jeffrey Simpson article mentioned above. Uribe has claimed the laptops captured from a FARC camp in 2008 showed that Hugo Chavez had been funding the rebels. Simpson declared Uribe's evidence against Chavez to be "incontestable".
However, the content of the files (even taking much of what
A Colombian senator, Jorge Enrique Robledo, wrote an article on May 31 about a scandal which implicates Uribe's sons. Uribe quickly retaliated by claiming that the laptop files show Robledo is an ally of the FARC. During his recent visit to
What about the Economics of the Deal?
In 2005, thirty municipalities in northern Cauca organized an internationally monitored referendum on a "Free Trade" agreement with the
"The FTA [free trade agreement] will mean that if
The voters are a small percentage of
"In the past six years we have lost 1,200 people to assassinations by armed groups, both legal and illegal: right-wing paramilitaries, guerrillas, police, and members of the Armed Forces."
They hope to undo the damage done by the systematic murder and theft they have endured and do not want "free trade" agreements to stand in their way. In October and November of 2008 the people of
The concerns expressed by the people of
The farmers in the Colombian departments of Nariño, Boayacá and Cundinamarca who organized referendums on "free trade" (with basically the same results as in
While trade with
More generally, the world's richest countries did not develop through "free trade". Ha Joon Chang, a specialist on development economics, has diligently uncovered the historical record of how rich countries really became rich. In his book "Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective" he points out that when the USA was a developing country during the 19th century it used tariffs of up to 40% to protect against rivals who were only 30% more productive. Today, developing countries are told to use much lower tariffs against competitors who are several times more productive (up to fifty times more productive in the case of the poorest countries). 
Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy research, has frequently pointed out that the "free trade" agreements like NAFTA often leave in place or even strengthen protectionist measures (especially patents, copyrights and subsidies) which mainly benefit privileged people within rich countries. 
Can't Learn From Colombia - Look at Peru
In its most recent editorial about the agreement (June 14), the Toronto Star asked
"Does the argument that Canada would do more harm than good by ratifying stand up to serious scrutiny?"
Only nine day earlier, as if to ridicule the Star's question,
The Council of Canadians reported
"600 Peruvian police in helicopters and on foot opened fire on protesters blocking a road near Bagua in the Peruvian Amazon. Conservative estimates indicate that 60 Indigenous and police have been killed. Police are accused of burning bodies then hiding them in the river and of removing the wounded from hospital to hide the real number of casualties."
The Canadian parliament ratified the Canada-Peru deal two days before the violence. Activists are urging the Senate to sent it back to parliament.
The Star's editorial of June 14 was quite reasonable compared to what other newspapers have written, but the jury should no longer be out on "free trade" with Colombia - or any other country.
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 see COHA analysis of deal
 The Globe and Mail; Editorial; June 11, 2008; From Emerson to Chavez
The Globe and Mail; July 4, 2008; Editorial; Ingrid Betancourt's Rescue
 The Globe and Mail; Jeffrey Simpson; July 5, 2008; A bold rescue is good news for Colombia - and Canada
Engler wrote "With $18.2 million from EDC [Export Development Canada] the companies' Urra dam submerged over 7,400 hectares, including old-growth forest as well as the lands and homes of 411 families, all of whom were without individual legal land titles, only having collective indigenous land rights. About 2,800 people were forcibly resettled to make way for the Canadian companies' project and a further 70,000 people were directly impacted. Predictably the community resisted the dam. According to Amnesty International, six indigenous people protesting the project were killed and ten additional members of the community were disappeared by paramilitary and guerrilla forces."
The Rights Action website is at
On paramilitaries and the drug trade [estinate from 2003] see
See also sources cited here
HRW Smoke and Mirros: Colombia's demobilization of paramilitary groups
HRW's estimate of Colombia's internally displaced population in 2002 see
See also http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/02/01/colomb17975.htm
 Testimony of Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno before the US House of Representatives
Testimony of Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno before the Canadian Parliament
On the UN investigation see
On General Montoya's appointment as ambassador see
On UK aid cancellation see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/2...uk-military-aid
 LexisNexis covers the Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, Montreal Gazette, Toronto Sun.
Articles that named Paramilitary victims
The Toronto Star, February 21, 2009; CSIS endangering 'lives of my sons'; Colombian union activist says agency gave media family addresses [about Amparo Torres]
The Gazette (Montreal), March 18, 2009; Jeff Heinrich; The unwanted witness [about Hollman Morris]
The Toronto Star; February 10, 2009; Colombians blast flower trade [mentions Kimy Pernia Domico]
The Toronto Star; May 30, 2009; Canada now Colombia's top trade target [mentions Jorge Dario Hoyos Franco]
 On HRW's reporting about Haiti see
AI's track record on Haiti see
Open letter to Uribe
 For a debunking of the "incontestable" evidence see below
Colombia's Magic Laptops
Hugo Chavez, the FARC Laptops, and the Non-Existent Emails
INTERPOL Clarifies it Never Determined Authenticity of Laptops that Implicate Venezuela
 Znet: Justin Podur: Uribe in Ottawa
Podur recently noted that even the establishment friendly International Crisis Group (ICG) recommended that a precondition for arms sales to Colombia should be that the government renounce the strategy of "stigmatisation by high government officials of human rights groups as linked to guerrillas"
 on the Cauca vote and other local referendums see
Witness For Peace; Faces of Colombia; Who are the victims of Free Trade?
Open Letter to Obama in opposition to FTA
The Struggle for Land in Colombia by Hector Mondragon
On mobilizations in October/November of 2008 see
En Camino; Profound Contradictions Between Government and Indigenous Movement Evident in Sunday's Historic Encounter By Mario A. Murillo; November 3, 2008
For more background see Justin Podur's photo essay from 2004
 On the investors' rights nature of the agreement see
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; Investors Rights Trump Human Rights; The Investment Chapter of the Canada-Colombia FTA
On the Pacific Rim law suit against El Salvador see the Rights Action alert archived at
 See Witness For Peace report (note 19) for discussion of impact of the Colombia-Canada deal on Colombian farmers
CEPR; Time to Take a Second Look at Our "Free Trade" Agreements By Mark Weisbrot
CEPR; CAFTA Not Likely to do Better Than NAFTA By Mark Weisbrot
 For more discussion see
Making a Bad Situation Worse:A briefing note prepared by:
Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers, Canadian Labour Congress, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
 p 67; Chang; Kicking Away the Ladder
 See Baker's free online book; The Conservative Nanny State; Chapter 1; "Doctors and Dishwashers:How the Nanny State Creates Good Jobs for Those at the Top"
 Council of Canadians: Action Alert: Canada must halt free trade agreement with Peru