Translated by Micheal O'Tuathail, La Chiva
“Three years later, like us, you said no to the Colombia-US FTA”
Representative Pelosi and the Congress of the United States,
First, we would like to express our pleasure and gratitude for the decision made yesterday, 10 April 2008, in the United States Congress. With 294 votes in favor and 195 against, the House of Representatives, over which you preside, decided to indefinitely freeze the FTA between Colombia and the US. We know that this is but one step on a long path, but the result is profoundly meaningful for our peoples, and it opens for us a window through which we can breath with strength and rejuvenated spirits. This letter, beyond reflecting our recognition and appreciation as peoples, seeks to open a space for communication between us, because we feel that we deserve the right to be heard and respected. It is long overdue that the Democratic Party Members of Congress under your leadership became aware of our democratic decision and analyses, all of which are rooted in dignity and life.
Little more than three years ago, on Sunday the 6th of March 2005, the first Popular Consultation regarding the US-Colombia FTA was carried out through a referendum held in 6 municipalities in the Department of Cauca. In that free, open and transparent referendum, monitored by national and international observers and bound by strict electoral regulations, there was a level of participation never before seen in the history of our municipalities. Ninety-eight per cent of the people responded NO to the following question: “Are you in favor of the FTA between Colombia and the United States?” The people expressed their sovereign and conscious decision. Since that first Consultation, others have been carried out throughout the country, all with the same result.
On 1 February of 2005, we made public a Proclamation through which we called for a national popular referendum on the FTA. We invite you to examine this document, which we reaffirm, and whose clarity and eloquence remain relevant today, more so given the decision of the US Congress. So that you may understand our motives and perspectives, we believe it is our right to respectfully express this to you, as peoples reacting to this Agreement that will deeply affect our lives. Through you, Mrs. Pelosi, we invite the Congress and the people of the United States to read this Proclamation and treat its content with the respect and consideration that it deserves [link] and to recognize the sovereign and democratic decision of our peoples.
It is important for you to know that – from the moment of carrying out this consultation until today – the information on the FTA and its consequences available to the people of Colombia through the government and the mass media have been absurdly distorted and entirely in favor, effectively closing the spaces for debate and discussion among diverse perspectives that would permit the population to understand the issue and to take a substantive position on it. In the Proclamation of the Consultation, we asked: “If the FTA is so good, why are they misinforming the population, and why are they afraid of a popular, democratic and conscious decision?” Today, in light of the decision you have made, we insist on the relevance of the same question. In spite of the constant propaganda in favor of the FTA and the manner in which fear was used to unsubstantially assure people that rejecting the FTA would be equivalent to the US abandoning Colombia in backwardness, those who participated in the referendum understood that not only was this wrong but on the contrary: the approval of the FTA on these terms and under these conditions is equivalent to pushing Colombia towards the abyss of backwardness, impoverishment, inequity and war. We also understand that the people of the United States suffer the negative consequences of these kinds of agreements, but it is ultimately up to you and the people of the United States to analyze and decide on them. Mrs. Pelosi, the Colombian government was opposed and remains opposed to allowing the Colombian people to understand the real impacts of the FTA as it is defined, closing the spaces of democratic debate and ignoring the results of the Popular Consultation. As a consequence, we emphatically invite you to examine the Consultation of March 2005, our motives and arguments, the democratic decision of the peoples, and the consequences and implications of this decision. We also invite you to back the right of peoples to understand and decide. With respect to the FTA, this is a right that the Colombian government has not respected.
The Colombian government attempted to discredit the decision of the Consultation, alleging that we do not understand the benefits of the FTA and that terrorists and others had manipulated the population. Our response to this disturbing and unfounded accusation is found in the text of the Proclamation, and the reality and facts speak for themselves. The position of the government is racist insofar as it still considers us primitive beings incapable of understanding and consciously deciding for ourselves. Moreover, it seriously threatens our lives and integrity by falsely claiming links with terrorists, claims that easily become death sentences in this country.
Read our arguments, and see for yourselves if we can be accused of not understanding. On the contrary to the Colombian government’s reaction, read and respond with ideas, arguments, and substance. As we have said in the Proclamation calling for the Consultation, we are neither opposed to Free Trade nor an agreement with the United States. We are opposed to this particular agreement, and we have reasons based fundamentally on substance. Mrs. Pelosi, Members of Congress, and people of the United States, three years after our Proclamation and call to carry out a public referendum regarding the FTA, three years after our people said NO, in spite of the closing of spaces for debate and decision, more than 60% of productive lands remain in the hands of 15,000 families, less than 0.4% of the population of the country. This immense concentration of land is non-productive insofar as the food that we consume comes from the poor, small property owners. The large property owners do not produce food. Furthermore, the influx of subsidized agricultural products condemns peasants, indigenous peoples, and rural producers to ruin and hunger, facing the impossibility of competing with less expensive products whose prices have been manipulated. Free Trade is making the production of crops for illicit use necessary for survival and obtaining essential economic resources. You are well aware that we are being displaced and forced off the land through violence and war, which serves to open the countryside to the mega-projects of transnational corporations. This cleansing has displaced 4 million of our compatriots to the cities, where they live in miserable conditions. This only foments social and political violence and hate, thereby perpetuating war and misery. The agreement imprisons medications and patents life and our ancestral knowledge. The FTA, that you decided to not consider for now, backs a government whose president, during a Community Consultation on the 15th of March 2008, offered bounties for indigenous peoples who are struggling to recuperate the lands from which we have been displaced, lands to which we have a right in concordance with agreements with the state. This is the criminalization of agrarian reform, however necessary for the viability of a just FTA. Agrarian reform is converted into a crime in order to protect particular interests that would benefit from the FTA. In the midst of war, misery, displacement, terror and deception, there can be prosperity for no one. That is why we have rejected this FTA, that which you have not debated.
Mrs. Pelosi and Members of Congress, we want a Free Trade Agreement that is actually an agreement, one that is negotiated among sectors that really represent the interests of peoples – not only among a few who act exclusively in the interests of big capital. We want an agreement that is free and not imposed unilaterally through propaganda, without debate and open and democratic consultation. We want an agreement that has real trade as its content, trade that guarantees reciprocal opportunity so that the wellbeing of peoples is realized in a manner that is autonomous, sovereign, and protects nature and life. The FTA that you have decided not to debate for the moment foments displacement, legalizes injustice, and condemns us to permanent war and backwardness.
We celebrate the decision that you have taken, and we thank you. This means nothing more nor less than respecting our lives. Receive our expression of immense gratitude to your people, and accept our invitation to understand the motives of the decision we made democratically three years ago.
Association of Indigenous Authorities of Northern Cauca – ACIN