The U.S. House of Representatives made a bold move last week to change the rules and refuse to be pressured into considering the Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Colombia. President Bush had “fast tracked” the agreement on April 7, requiring an up or down vote, with no changes or amendments, within 90 legislative days (which translates to late September). On April 10, the House approved a resolution which effectively removes those requirements and puts consideration of the agreement on hold indefinitely.
The Bush administration frames this in terms of supporting a strategic ally in Latin America. Many U.S. business interests have been in favor of this agreement because it would eliminate certain Colombian import tariffs on U.S. goods. Elites in Colombia have likewise been pushing for adoption of this trade agreement. However, money is not all that is at stake here, which is why many of us are opposed to this agreement. The House decision to delay a vote is in some sense helpful, but what we really need is for more members of Congress to make a public stance in opposition to the agreement so that it can be clearly defeated.
In summary, these are my primary concerns about this particular trade agreement and the idea of entering into such a relationship with the Colombian government at this time:
Colombia continues to be the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists.
Land appropriated from rural campesinos, Afro-Colombians, and indigenous peoples (by means sometimes questionable and sometimes clearly illegal) continues to be handed over to corporate interests for commercial exploitation.
Environmental protections are not guaranteed.
In recent months numerous members of the Colombian Congress and President Uribe’s cabinet have been arrested and connected to collaboration with paramilitary groups and narcotraffickers. Similar collusion has been found in the Colombian armed forces.
For more information I recommend the following documents:
Lisa Haugard of the Latin America Working Group’s update on human rights in Colombia:
The American Friends Service Committee has developed a dedicated space to denounce the connections between trade and war in Colombia:
Here you can download their excellent document: