This article give some insight on how the Canada-Colombia FTA looks to the Canadian business class - more of a "political gesture" towards an "embattled" government than a trade deal. Click here to read a recent statement by the leaders of CUPE, CUPW and PSAC on the effects of this Free Trade Agreement. Sincerely, María de la Chiva.
[Author: Jane Bao], Originally published in [Canadian Business], [August 18, 2008 Edition]
When Canada concluded free trade talks with Colombia in June, the announcement came in the form of a release on a Saturday. But burying news of the deal on a weekend hasn’t stopped a storm of protest. In Ottawa, the opposition blasted the government for reaching an FTA (whose ratification will likely take months) without waiting for an assessment report from the Commons trade committee, whose members recently travelled to Colombia - a country that has been plagued by drug trafficking, paramilitary death squads and other forms of strife. South of the border, meanwhile, President George W. Bush’s proposed FTA with Colombia has run into a brick wall in Congress. Some American editorialists have criticized Congress’s stance, in opinions carrying such headlines as “Canada eats our trade lunch.” That has led Liberal and NDP critics here to suggest that Canada’s deal is meant to help Bush by exerting pressure to keep up.
All of this, however, is to overstate the importance of the Canada-Colombia agreement. It is a step in Canada’s foreign policy of re-engagement with Latin America, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has cited “the integration of Colombia into the hemisphere” as a benefit alongside Canadian interests. But the political furor it has touched off wholly overshadows its commercial impact, which is likely to be minimal. “It’s a political gesture toward an embattled government in Colombia,” says Michael Hart, a professor at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, and a former trade official for Canada. “These are political agreements, not trade agreements. They should not be sold as agreements that are an important part of Canada’s trade strategy.”
Merchandise trade with Colombia, at $1.14 billion in 2007, accounted for less than 0.2% of Canada’s total trade; bilateral trade with all Latin American countries was less than 5% of the total last year. Though the FTA is a largely symbolic gesture, the deal will help the smattering of companies operating in Colombia - Canadian direct investments there amount to $739 million, and are mostly in mining, and oil and gas. But such figures are dwarfed by, for instance, the $576 billion in merchandise trade Canada did with the U.S. last year.
Canada signed its first FTA in six years in January, with the European Free Trade Association, a 48-year-old body comprising Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. A deal with Peru followed in May. The handful of FTAs don’t hurt, say some observers, but Canada would do better to focus attention elsewhere. “Canada should be pursuing a much more aggressive strategy with the U.S. to deal with excessive security at the border and regulatory differences,” says Hart. “We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that pursuing such things as FTAs with little countries has a macro impact.”
Then again, small trade gains require relatively little effort, partly because few interests have to be considered and partly because Canada is adept at riding our southern neighbour’s coattails. Says Mark Manger, a trade expert at McGill University: “Whenever the U.S. negotiates a bilateral trade deal, Canada comes along and says, ‘Why don’t you give us the same terms?’ That makes it easier to negotiate.” In lieu of scattered bilateral free trade agreements and rebuffed attempts at establishing better ties with Europe, according to Manger, Canada should focus on East Asia and its booming population if we’re serious about securing markets elsewhere.
Talks continue with the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Singapore and South Korea, our biggest potential free trade partner. More ambitious endeavours don’t seem likely, as long as Canada keeps reaching for lower-hanging fruit.
[ 07/24/2008] [ Source: Tejido de Comunicación ACIN ] [ Author: ACIN] [Translation: María de La Chiva] [Original: http://www.nasaacin.org/noticias.htm?x=8288]
The fear that we have today is not only due to the presence of outsiders in our territories and their probable return in tandem with public forces in order to obtain their objectives, but also for all of the acts of terror and war in Northern Cauca, acts which are intensifying every day in order to displace us and facilitate the entry of transnationals wishing to exploit our resources.
In Northern Cauca, the Comprehensive Plan of Aggression in the mark of Plan Colombia II is making itself felt at an ever growing rate. The strategies of War and Terror, Economic Subjugation and Propaganda are already being exercised simultaneously.
As an example, we point to the ongoing clashes between armed groups in Reserves like Corinto and Huellas Caloto, clashes which put the civilian population that lives and travels through these territories at high risk. On July 23rd there was heavy fighting in the village of Pajarito, in the Huellas Caloto Reserve. In addition, public forces surrounded peoples’ homes, and due to the confusion and danger created by the fighting, the community was obliged to gather in the permanent assembly areas, where more than 200 adults and children registered themselves. In addition, on June 24th in the morning there was more fighting in the same village, forcing students to return home in order to protect themselves from the crossfire of the shots being fired.
At the same time, transnational companies are entering into our lands as if it was their own property, taking advantage of the terror to which our people are subjected because of the continuous state of war in which our communities are living. In the late afternoon of June 23rd in the Delicias Reserve, 12 people identifying themselves as employees of Cosigo Resources Limited -a Canadian mining company- were surveying the caves in Mirasoles, near Cerro Catalina.
“At 2:00pm yesterday, the Indigenous Council of the Delicias Reserve received a call from Afro-Colombians from Mirasoles, who were at the foot of Cerro Catalina, informing us that there were outsiders in our territory. We left immediately, and in half an hour arrived in the area. When we arrived we found 12 people: some from Bogotá, some from Buenaventura, and there were even some indigenous people from Amazonas, from Leticia specifically, who identified themselves as members of the community of Miraña,” explained a member of the Council in Delicias.
When the Council members showed up in the area where this group of people was located, they saw that the Afro-Colombian community had already detained, surrounded and begun interrogating them, but the group did not want to give much information until the Indigenous people showed up and presented themselves as part of the Council Authority.
“They told us that they belonged to a mining company called Cosigo Resources Ltd. and that was when we started to enter into discussion with them. As authorities, we told them that we aren’t going to let anyone into our territory without previous permission, or without our consent, that we have rights as indigenous people, and that in addition we have an agreement with the Municipality of Suarez for the respect of our territory,” added another member of the Council.
During the dialogue, the spokesman for the 12 outsiders told the community members that were present that they had already asked the Municipality for permission to enter two months ago, that they are aware of the process that they are following, and that the leader of their group was in that very moment meeting with the Mayor. Given this situation, the Council got directly in touch with the Secretary of Government, who claimed to have no information about what was going on, and then with the Mayor’s office, where they also claimed not to know anything about the situation.
The Traditional Authority in charge of the Council of Delicias proceeded to ask the Mayor to order the 12 people off of the territory, and have them taken to the offices of the Council. The Mayor then spoke by telephone to the leader of the group, and asked them to leave immediately, because he had no information about what they were doing there. Finally, at 5:00pm, they were required to leave the site and the Afro-Colombian community members accompanied them to a river to ensure that they left the area.
“It is clear that these people were trying to carry out a sample study or prospecting on a concession that the government has given to Cosigo Resources Limited. We were looking at the maps on the internet and we observed that there is a concession that runs the entire perimeter of Cerro Catalina, in addition to entering within various areas of our Reserve, and inside the Indigenous mining zone [a territorial expanse defined within the Mining Code as an area where Indigenous people have priority for all mining activity],” explained an indigenous community member.
These acts concern the community due of the effects such a company can cause after the enter the territory. For this reason, on July 24th, the communities met and reflected upon what happened the day before, and they have planned to attend the meeting on July 26th, called by the Mayor of Suárez, Luis Fernando Colorado, which will include Afro-Colombian communities, Indigenous people and small scale miners, with the goal of analyzing the situation together.
Given these facts, the Afro and Indigenous Communities that live on these territories are worried, and call out to human rights organizations to denounce these acts, to accompany in whatever way possible our organizational processes, and to investigate the circumstances that are affecting these communities in Suárez, Cauca. Because our fear is not only the intrusion of outsiders onto our territory and their possible return with public forces in order to reach their goal, but all of the terror and war that we are living in Northern Cauca, which is intensifying every day to displace us and facilitate the entry of transnationals wishing to exploit our resources.
Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca - ACIN Santander de Quilchao, Cauca, July 24, 2008
Written by Aurelio Suárez Montoya, Originally published in La Tarde, Pereira, 15 de julio de 2008
A la demostración de 15.000 lecheros que el 9 de julio pasado en Bogotá, Montería, Popayán, Pereira, Mariquita, Neiva, Florencia, La Dorada, Ocaña, Chiquinquirá y Tunja, entre varias ciudades, protestaron en contra de los decretos 616 y 2838 de 2006, expedidos por el Gobierno Nacional, por los cuales se impone a partir del 24 de agosto de 2008 la leche industrializada como única forma de consumo de este alimento, le cae como anillo al dedo una de las más importantes consideraciones de Henry David Thoreau, el padre de la Desobediencia Civil.
“Existen leyes injustas: ¿debemos estar contentos de cumplirlas, trabajar para enmendarlas, y obedecerlas hasta cuando lo hayamos logrado, o debemos incumplirlas desde el principio? Las personas, bajo un gobierno como el actual, creen por lo general que deben esperar hasta haber convencido a la mayoría para cambiarlas. Creen que si oponen resistencia, el remedio sería peor que la enfermedad. Pero es culpa del gobierno que el remedio sea peor que la enfermedad. Es él quien lo hace peor”.
¿Es justa la resistencia de los lecheros? Se esgrime la insalubridad de la leche cruda para justificar las medidas oficiales. Como sucede con casi todo en los últimos tiempos, se manipula la opinión pública para ganar su favor. Se quiere hacer creer que se protege el consumo de leche cruda como tal. No. Lo que se defiende es que se permita su comercio para ser hervida, un patrón de consumo, arraigado en especial en los sectores populares; que es más económica que cualquier otra presentación y que involucra, como “cadena láctea popular” a decenas de miles de pequeños ganaderos, a más de 20.000 comercializadores, a innumerables industrias caseras de derivados lácteos y a millones de consumidores.
En la campaña de desinformación contra los lecheros se omite que la Organización Mundial de la Salud-OMS-, cuando habla de leche no cruda, coloca en el mismo plano a la leche hervida con la pasteurizada y, es más, la OMS realiza campañas en el mundo entero donde promueve hervir la leche para hacerla alimento seguro. Pero no sólo los decretos excluyen esta categorización sino que, además, imponen verdaderas quimeras para hacerse efectivos. Por ejemplo, se exige el registro ante el ICA de los predios que suministren leche. ¿Será esto viable en el Caquetá donde hay un millón doscientas mil reses y sólo un técnico pecuario del ICA? ¿O en Boyacá donde para ochocientas cincuenta mil reses apenas existen veinte? Así mismo, se exige a los pequeños hatos tener agua potable o “agua de fácil potabilización (sic)”, cuando es sabido que en el 90% de las áreas rurales de Colombia falta agua apta para el consumo humano. Los decretos prescriben que los conductores de vehículos de comercialización tengan “buenas práctica higiénicas”, ¿quién y cómo puede corroborarlo? Lo mismo sucede cuando se “ordena a las vacas” producir leche con al menos 2,9% de proteína.
Igual pasa con los planes de “reconversión”. ¿Se pretende que “esta cadena láctea popular” se torne en empresa de pasteurización? Si bien algunas informaciones hablan que en ese sentido se han inscrito ante las autoridades más de 2.500 propuestas, también vale difundir que, como en Cundinamarca luego de dos años, de 830 solicitudes ninguna fue atendida por el sector bancario ante la vulnerabilidad financiera de los solicitantes, no han podido concretarse.
La salubridad de los colombianos no puede descansar en las “buenas prácticas” de los particulares por poderosos o débiles que sean. La presencia institucional del Estado es indispensable no sólo en la vigilancia, sino también, en el acompañamiento y éste no se hace sólo a punta de decretos. Se enfrentan, de nuevo, dos formas de gobernar que es lo que se viene discutiendo en Colombia en los últimos veinte años. Una, que descarga en el Estado el bienestar general, y, la otra, que limita la acción estatal al menudo papel de regulador de la iniciativa privada y que hace de esa regulación un instrumento excluyente de quienes no pueden cumplirla o que de hacerlo quedan expuestos a ser vapuleados por grandes poderes.
Los lecheros no darán su brazo a torcer fácilmente. Son conscientes de la arbitrariedad que hay en la índole de estos decretos y saben que hay una batalla por librar, sobre todo en términos de la verdadera verdad acerca de los motivos de su movilización. Por ello han emprendido la tarea de organizar para el 19 de agosto próximo una gran Marcha Nacional en Bogotá. Continuarán el pulso para difundir sus razones; entre otras, para confrontar las falsas informaciones con las cuales el gobierno en forma amañada pretende imponer las suyas, incluso influyendo con ellas sobre los editoriales de la gran prensa.
As a Colombia solidarity group based in Canada, it is impossible for us not to pay special attention to the situation of communities in resistance in the place we call Canada. The Lubicon Cree, located in northern Alberta, the province where La Chiva was born, have been resisting for many years. With the so-called oil industry ‘boom’ we are all experiencing in a variety of ways (rent increases, major local inflation, the destruction of our environment, among many others), there are communities that are not only being ignored but are forced to live with the consequences of the ‘Alberta Advantage’. This must not continue! In that spirit, a group of people have begun working in solidarity with the Lubicon, to bring the situation they face to light in Alberta, Canada and the world. This work is extremely important, as it shines a mirror on this place called Canada, which is exactly what La Chiva is working to do as well.
Find below an excerpt from their July Bulletin, which provides a recent update and some background on the situation. If Colombia is too far to care about, know that THIS IS HAPPENING HERE, TOO!
In solidarity, La Chiva
TransCanada (major transnational company) continues to refuse to recognize the Lubicon.
Update: TransCanada's North Central Corridor pipeline (the pipeline proposed to run through unceded Lubicon traditional territory) was approved by the 'regulatory body' the Alberta Utilities Commission. TransCanada continues to refuse to recognize Lubicon land rights or sincerely address Lubicon concerns. See 'background' section below for a description of just how TransCanada operates with regard to the Lubicon.
Background: Since the construction of an all-weather road in 1979, Lubicon traditional territory has been ravaged by oil and gas exploitation. Over $13 billion in oil and gas resources have been taken from Lubicon land, yet the community remains even without running water or suitable housing. It was in reaction to this that, in 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing called on Canada to "place a moratorium on all oil and extractive activities in the Lubicon region until a settlement is reached with the Lubicon Nation."
The very next month TransCanada filed its application with Alberta to construct a jumbo pipeline through Lubicon territory. In a public statement TransCanada made false public claims that "no objections were raised in extensive consultations with landowners, native communities and other 'interested stakeholder'."
Yet from the beginning Lubicon representatives made it clear that they would oppose construction of the proposed pipeline unless and until representatives of TransCanada agreed to respect recognized Lubicon land rights and answered Lubicon questions. Since the time of its application, TransCanada has carried on with an "engagement program" - a strategy made to look as if TransCanada is addressing to Lubicon concerns (visiting the community from time to time, saying they are "just stopping by"), while they are simply moving ahead with their own plans for the pipeline. Even the promise TransCanada made to the Lubicons to bring a TransCanada official to a meeting who could take a position with respect to unceded Lubicon land rights (not to mention answer the Lubicon questions about pipeline construction and operation that have been repeatedly raised by Lubicon representatives) remains unfulfilled. TransCanada never follows through. At the same time TransCanada has made claims implying that they are "not aware" of Lubicon concerns regarding the pipeline.
Please support the Lubicon, a community in resistance in Canada, as well as the important solidarity work being done by Friends of the Lubicon.
On the 16th of July, miners at the Drummond coal mine located in northern Colombia declared a strike, effectively paralyzing both the mine and the port used for transporting coal from Colombia around the world. The union, Sintramienergetica, believes that the company had not been negotiating in good faith. Workers across Colombia have heard the call of the Drummond workers and are watching the situation closely. In Colombia, union activity in general faces a special situation whereby the most basic of actions, like union organizing, are often met with threats and assassinations. The bravery of the Drummond workers to strike under the conditions in Colombia must be supported nationally and internationally.
Sintramienergetica has made the call for URGENT international support.
Included below are also the addresses and fax numbers of the US company and its Colombian subsidiary. Please write and fax them. Let them know that WE ARE ALL WATCHING THE SITUATION CLOSELY!
In solidarity La Chiva Collective, Canada.
From the International Labour Rights Forum:
Dear Friends, As you may have heard, workers at the Drummond coal mine in Colombia are currently on strike. Their union has called for international support at this time.
Attached please find the urgent action letter that ILRF will send today and the call for action from the union. We encourage you to send similar letters. Contact information is below as well as a brief Reuters article on the strike.
Thank you for your time and please feel free to contact us for more information. Feel free to circulate this call to other organizations who might be interested.
In Solidarity, Timothy Newman International Labor Rights Forum firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mr. Jimenez and Mr. Drummond, We are writing to express our concern about the labor conflict at Drummond Ltd. in Colombia. We understand that on July 16 the Sintramienergetica union declared a strike at both the mine and the port, because they feel that your company has not negotiated the new CBA in good faith. The International Labor Rights Forum continues to be deeply concerned about anti-union violence in Colombia and we are following this particular situation closely. We hope that you will do everything possible to ensure a peaceful resolution to this conflict, and that when you return to the negotiation table you do so ready to negotiate in good faith.
Bama Athreya Executive Director CC: Ministerio del Interior y de Justicia Ministerio de la Protección Social Ministerio de Minas y Energia Procuraduría General de la Nación Fiscal Dr. Mario Iguaran ILO Representative in Colombia Defensor del Pueblo Sintramienergetica Funtraenergetica
Press releaseIN SUPPORT OF THE DRUMMOND WORKERS' DEMANDSSenator Jorge Enrique Robledo
Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo expressed his complete support for the strike begun yesterday, July 16 at 5:50 p.m., by the workers of La Loma, Cesar and the Port of Cienaga, Magdalena, the coal mines run by the U.S. company Drummond. The work stoppage occurred because the corporation refuses to address the demands that Sintramienergetica filed in accordance with the law and it can be resolved with the signing of the new collective bargaining agreement.
In the petition submitted to the second largest mining company in Colombia, the workers demand: labor stability, a change in the situation of workers hired through different types of subcontracting, compliance with regulations concerning industrial safety and worker health as required by law and by the Constitution --regulations which the company repeatedly abuses, causing serious damage to the health of workers--, a wage increase greater than the rate of inflation and an increase in the company's insignificant social investment in their zones of influence.
Senator Robledo, after judging the workers' demands to be fair and democratic, explained how Drummond, with very high profits, in 2007 mined 22.9 million tons of coal for 1.15 billion dollars and how in last three years the price of a ton of coal has gone from 25 dollars to more than 100 dollars with costs of production that do not exceed 20 dollars. It's completely unjustifiable that the U.S. company, with excellent economic conditions, does not compensate their workers or the corresponding communities fairly or provide sufficient social investment, when it's undeniable that in these mining operations they obtain large profits, while the nation that owns the resources receives only a few crumbs of the pie.
Press Office Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo Bogotá, July 17, 2008
Tres mil trabajadores de la mina de carbón del Municipio de La Loma, Cesar y el Puerto de Ciénaga, Magdalena, entraron en Huelga a las 5:50 de la tarde del miércoles 16 de julio. Esta es la segunda mina de carbón de Colombia y la explota por contrato de Concesión la multinacional norteamericana DRUMMOND, compañía que, además, ha sido favorecida con licencia para explotar el gas natural descubierto en la misma área y la mina de carbón El Descanso de 22 mil hectáreas, ubicada en los municipios de Becerril y Codazzi y considerada la más grande del mundo.
Los trabajadores representados por Sintramienergética, declararon la Huelga, luego de agotar todas las etapas de ley en la negociación del Pliego de Peticiones. Los dos mil cien afiliados al sindicato tomaron la decisión en votación realizada los días 6 y 8 de julio y autorizaron a la Comisión Negociadora a continuar en el diálogo, como efectivamente ocurrió hasta el día de ayer, cuando se cumplieron los términos legales para hacer efectiva la Huelga, sin que se llegara a acuerdo alguno. La DRUMMOND se niega a considerar los puntos del petitorio que hacen referencia a: la estabilidad laboral y el procedimiento para aplicar sanciones, los programas de salud ocupacional y seguridad industrial, la situación de dos mil trabajadores que laboran por distintas modalidades de intermediación laboral, aumento salarial y de las partidas económicas y mejoramiento de los programas de inversión social en las comunidades del entorno de la explotación.
La multinacional exportó carbón en el 2007 por 1.100 millones de dólares, con precios que han pasado en los últimos tres años de 30 hasta 100 dólares la tonelada, en una mina con costos de producción que no sobrepasan los 20 y con pago de regalías del mísero 10%. La Nación se está quedando con los impactos negativos de la explotación en el medio ambiente, la afectación del entorno social, el deterioro de las vías y el puerto, los cientos de trabajadores con enfermedades y lesiones de origen profesional, mientras la multinacional obtiene jugosas ganancias.
Llamamos al movimiento sindical a manifestar su solidaridad con esta justa lucha, a elevar la denuncia ante el Gobierno Nacional, los organismos internacionales y las organizaciones sindicales y sociales de orden internacional. Rodeemos de apoyo esta manifestación de dignidad y patriotismo de los obreros del carbón.
TARSICIO MORA GODOY DOMINGO TOVAR ARRIETA Presidente Secretario General
GUSTAVO RUBEN TRIANA SUÁREZ Segundo Vicepresidente
Written by Raul Zibechi, Originally published in ALAI, 16 July 2008 Translated by Dawn Paley for La Chiva
In the first quarter of 2008, a strong political shift has emerged, which allows the local and global right-wing and multinational corporations to regain their positions and boost their offensives. This shift is not limited to Colombia, which represents its centre, but extends to countries like Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru, essentially affecting the entire region.
If there ever was a balance between the FARC and the Colombian Armed Forces, over the last few months it has fallen heavily in favor of the state. The guerrilla has lost all possibility of negotiating a humanitarian accord under favorable conditions, it cannot maintain military or political offensives, it has been intensely discredited by the population, and it lacks sufficient national and international allies. Even given this reality, the most probable scenario is that the FARC will continue on, with diminished capacity and a likely fragmentation among its leaders and fronts, a situation suggested by the outcome of the liberation of the 15 hostages.
The strategy employed by the Southern Command and the Pentagon, as expressed through Phase II of Plan Colombia, contemplates neither the definitive defeat of nor the possible negotiation with the guerrilla. Removing the FARC from the scene would be bad news for the imperial strategy of destabilization and re-colonization in the Andean region, which Fidel Castro has defined as “pax romana.” This project cannot be realized without war, be it direct or indirect; which is to say, without permanent destabilization as a form of territorial and political reconfiguration in this strategic region, which includes the arc of Venezuela, Bolivia and Paraguay, passing through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
On one hand, it is about clearing the Andean region to facilitate the current multinational business model (open pit mining, oil and gas exploitation, biodiversity, monocultures for ‘biofuels’) which requires the appropriation of common goods as much as it does the displacement of the populations that continue to live in these spaces. We are not facing so-called “normal” capitalism, which was capable in a given moment of establishing alliances and agreements which gave life to benefactor states based on the triple alliance between the state, national businesspeople, and unions. Instead, this is a financial-speculative-accumulation-by-dispossession model, which substitutes negotiations with wars and the extraction of surplus value by appropriating nature. In other words, this is war capitalism in an age of imperial decadence.
This system assumes the form of criminal or mafia capitalism in countries like Colombia, not only because it functions well through war and theft but also because war and theft form its central nucleus, its principle form of accumulation. This explains the close link between private war companies, which in Colombia employ two to three thousand mercenaries, or ‘contractors’ as they are now called, and the paramilitary state, headed up by President Álvaro Uribe, situated in an alliance between paramilitaries and narco-traffickers.
In Colombia, there are three forces that have faced off against the current state of affairs: the guerrilla, the political left of the Polo Democrático Alternativo and social movements. The first believes that they can win through weapons or negotiate with this new power. The Polo Democrático rejects the role of Washington and of multinational corporations as designers and beneficiaries of the paramilitary mafia state, and thus overestimates the margins of democracy. Social movements, for their part, have massive difficulties in emerging out of local and sectarian struggles and are not in the condition, at present, to position themselves as alternative actors.
Phase II of Plan Colombia is the mechanism used in designing this militarist state, and in this moment, is seeking to consolidate it. Now that the FARC do not represent any major risk for this project, the objective of drawing out the conflict over the long term becomes clear. Far from opening spaces for negotiation, as is the desire of the left, the message over the last few months has indicated a single way forward: neither peace nor surrender will guarantee the lives of guerrillas. They either fight and resist, or wait for their extermination, as happened at the end of the 1980s. The idea is to hit the territorial heart of the guerrillas in order to displace them towards border zones with Venezuela and Ecuador, where Plan Colombia II aspires to convert them into instruments of regional destabilization.
For this reason, Venezuela and Hugo Chavez have adopted the strategy of reducing tensions with the Uribe government. It is not an ideological question, as some analysts claim. That argument is fine in coffee shops and academic circles, but of little value when the subject matter is the survival of projects of social change. If the imperial project is consolidated, the entire region will suffer from polarization, and it is from there that the urgency to deescalate the conflicts stems, as much in Colombia as in Argentina and Bolivia.
Neither will an eventual triumph of Barack Obama change things. It may temper the most authoritarian strains of ‘Uribismo’, which explains the extreme nervousness of Bogotá and its solid alliance with John McCain, the Republican candidate. What is certain is that the plans of the Southern Command do not depend on who is in the White House, and that their aim is to promote comprehensive actions that convert the region into a stable, impregnable bastion for the maintenance of US hegemony.
In sum, the imperial elites aspire to use physical armed force to regain their decadence in the re-colonization of Latin America. In moments like this, only popular mobilization and action through political channels can weaken the offensive coming from the North.
Raúl Zibechi is a Uruguayan journalist, professor and researcher in the Latin American Franciscan Multiversity, and an advisor to various social groups.
Written by Aurelio Suárez Montoya, Originally published in La Tarde, Pereira, Colombia, 8 July 2008 Translated by Micheal Ó Tuathail for La Chiva
Once the emotion caused by recent news related to public order has calmed, the country ought to pay attention to the economic crisis already on the way. Uribe worryingly referred to the theme in a meeting with the media, and for good reason: recent indicators, including those provided by the DANE [the Colombian government’s statistics bureau], on the recently changing rhythm of economic growth, employment and inflation are not looking good. Beyond the announcements of press bulletins, the analysis of the information compared to the last trimester of 2007 makes one think that a major national economic fall is on the way, caused not only by the global crisis but amplified on its own.
A country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the value of the goods and services produced through the use of the factors of production and resources it bears. Sustained growth shows that the economy responds more and more to the effective demands – which also grow – of its population and the international economy, thus creating a circle of prosperity. In capitalism, there are as many cycles of robustness as there are declines. In the case of the latter, GDP declines, and the factors of production – such as the productive capacity of industries, labour, the generation and use of electricity, land, among others things – are exploited less. Then comes the recession. Data from most recent months seem to indicate that the recession is getting close.
The use of industry’s productive capacity (machines, equipment, etc.) fell by 4.2% between the first trimester of 2008 and the last of 2007. The general demand for electricity, the source of energy for manufacturing as well as homes, also fell, by 0.8%; as did the manufacture of automobiles, furniture, textiles, and wood products. Total industrial production fell by 1.3% between the two trimesters. Agriculture, taking into account the coffee sector, was the only sector that grew, by 0.8%. However, if we exclude the coffee sector, it fell by 2%. Moreover, the construction industry, which has a determining effect on the economy, presents a lower number of new projects and areas approved for construction. Immobile transactions of buying and selling fell by 10%. The decrease in trade – which saw a sales lapse of 0.9%, not unlike the services sector – is explained as part of a general trend. Financial firms are reporting a 25% increase in past due payments.
As a consequence, unemployment is also affected. In May 2008, in the three metropolitan areas, where labour demand is most concentrated, unemployment was 11.8%. In April, it was 11.5%; and one year ago, it was 11.4%. The decreasing tendency of unemployment now seems to be in reverse, and this is seen without taking into account the recent layoffs in the automotive industry and those of confection, flowers, and bananas. These last few industries, net exporters, tend to collapse if what they receive per dollar exported – a fruit of the revaluation of the peso, which has surged by 15% over the year – persists and is accentuated; thus they cannot even cover the increase in costs caused by extremely high inflation.
And, speaking of inflation, this is not the common type of inflation, caused by excesses of demand or money in the hands of consumers responded to by a corresponding supply of goods. It's far more serious. What we are seeing now is a form of inflation caused by costs occurring in external markets for primary products, combustibles and food that are transmitted to the internal market. In some cases, it has grown larger without so much as a shiver in the monetary policy of the Banco de la República [Colombia’s Central Bank]. In June, when inflation was already 2 points higher than expected for 2008 – half the minimum salary for 365 days was “swallowed,” and the margins of companies in the countryside and in the cities are either minimal or negative – they have been playing down the amount of savings and accumulation.
The economy cannot be manipulated. A government that favours the massive influx of devalued dollars to capture lucrative public companies and strategic natural resources for cheap and that is spending what has been earned in that bazaar and much more, worsening the “imported” inflation, becomes part of the problem and not the solution, thereby negating its primary responsibility. The official remedy, Security + Confidence = Investment + Employment, has been exhausted and has not sustained the vanities have been passengers on the tide of great results. The supposed merits of that economic policy have been ephemeral. The reality is different: Deceleration + Unemployment + Inflation, an opportunity to throw out neoliberalism, the primary cause of that reality.
The board of Acción Comunal of the highlands sector of the municipality of Patía, Cauca, REPORT:
In the early hours of Friday July 11th 2008, an emergent paramilitary group operating in the western highlands of Cauca department kidnapped 6 peasants, including 4 members of the board of Acción Comunal, from the township of La Ceiba in the municipality of Patía. The kidnapping of these peasants was promptly reported to the public ministry and mayor’s office of the municipality of Patía, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Peace Process Support Mission of the OAS in Colombia, as well as the Public Ombudsman in Popayán.
We call upon the kidnappers to respect the lives of these peasants, honest working people many of whom are parents of families and who were born and have lived their entire lives in these townships and are not involved in anything other than agricultural activities and working in the service of their community.
It is also known that this same emergent paramilitary group is holding 4 other peasants from the municipality of Argelia, who might be held alongside those kidnapped from Patía.
We respectfully ask that the local and regional authorities and organizations working in the defense of human rights help us save the lives of these peasants. We also thank the media for circulating this communiqué and suggest that they contact the aforementioned national and international institutions.
THE BOARD OF ACCIÓN COMUNAL OF THE HIGHLANDS SECTOR OF THE MUNICIPALITY OF PATÍA
Written by Fidel Castro, Reproduced from Granma.cu, 5 July 2008
I basically drew these data from statements made by William Brownfield, US ambassador to Colombia, from that country’s press and television, from the international press, and other sources. It’s impressive the show of technology and economic resources at play.
While in Colombia the senior military officers went to great pains to explain that Ingrid Betancourt’s rescue had been an entirely Colombian operation, the US authorities were saying that “it was the result of years of intense military cooperation of the Colombian and United States’ armies.” “’The truth is that we have been able to get along as we seldom have in the United States, except with our oldest allies, mostly in NATO,’ said Brownfield, referring to his country’s relationships with the Colombian security forces, which have received over 4 billion USD in military assistance since the year 2000.” “…on various occasions it became necessary for the US Administration to make decisions at the top levels concerning this operation.
“The US spy satellites helped in locating the hostages during a month period starting on May 31st until the rescue action on Wednesday.” “The Colombians installed video surveillance equipment, supplied by the United States. Operated by remote control, these can take close-ups and pan along the rivers which are the only transportation routes through thick forests, said the Colombian and US authorities.” “US surveillance aircraft intercepted the rebels’ radio and satellite phone talks and used imaging equipment that can break through the forest foliage.” “’The defector will receive a considerable sum of the close to one- hundred-million-dollars reward offered by the government’, stated the Commander General of the Colombian Army.” On Wednesday, July 1st, the London BBC reported that Cesar Mauricio Velasquez, press secretary at Casa de Nariño (Colombian Government House) had informed that delegates from France and Switzerland had met with Alfonso Cano, chief of the FARC.
According to the BBC, that would be the first contact with international delegates accepted by the new chief after the death of Manuel Marulanda. The false information of the meeting of two European envoys with Cano had been released in Bogota.
The deceased leader of the FARC had been born on May 12, 1932, according to his father’s testimony. Marulanda, a poor peasant with a liberal thinking and a Gaitan follower, had started his armed resistance 60 years back. He was a guerrilla before us; he had reacted to the carnage of peasants carried out by the oligarchy.
The Communist Party he later joined, the same as every other in Latin America, was under the influence of the Communist Party of the USSR and not of Cuba. They were in solidarity with our Revolution but they were not subordinated to it.
It was the drug-traffickers and not the FARC that unleashed terror in that sister nation as part of their feuds over the United States market. They caused powerful bomb blasts and even blew up trucks loaded with plastic explosives destroying facilities and injuring or killing countless people.
The Colombian Communist Party never contemplated the idea of conquering power through the armed struggle. The guerrilla was a resistance front and not the basic instrument to conquer revolutionary power, as it had been the case in Cuba. In 1993, at the 8th FARC Conference, they decided to break ranks with the Communist Party. Its leader, Manuel Marulanda, took over the leadership of that Party’s guerrillas which had always excelled in their narrow sectarianism when admitting combatants as well as in their strong and compartmented commanding methods.
Marulanda, a man with a remarkable natural talent and a leader’s gift, did not have the opportunity to study when he was young. It is said that he had only completed the 5th grade of grammar school. He conceived a long and extended struggle; I disagreed with this point of view. But, I never had the chance to talk with him.
The FARC became considerable strong with over 10 thousand combatants. Many had been born during the war and had known nothing else. Other leftist organizations rivaled the FARC in the struggle. By then the Colombian territory had become the largest source of cocaine production in the world. Then, extreme violence, kidnappings, taxes and demands from the drug producers became widespread.
The paramilitary forces, armed by the oligarchy, drew basically from the great amount of men enlisted in the country’s armed forces who were discharged from duty every year without a secure job. These created in Colombia a very complex situation with only one way out: real peace, albeit remote and difficult as many other goals Humanity have set itself. This is the option that, for three decades, Cuba has advocated for that nation.
While our journalists meeting in their 8th Congress debated on the new technologies of information, the principles and ethic of social communicators, I meditated on the abovementioned developments. I have expressed, very clearly, our position in favor of peace in Colombia; but, we are neither in favor of foreign military intervention nor of the policy of force that the United States intends to impose at all costs on that long-suffering and industrious people.
I have honestly and strongly criticized the objectively cruel methods of kidnapping and retaining prisoners under the conditions of the jungle. But I am not suggesting that anyone laid down their arms, when everyone who did so in the last 50 years did not survive to see peace. If I dared suggest anything to the FARC guerrillas that would simply be that they declare, by any means possible to the International Red Cross, their willingness to release the hostages and prisoners they are still holding, without any precondition. I do not intend to be heard; it is simply my duty to say what I think. Anything else would only serve to reward disloyalty and treason.
I will never support the pax romana that the empire tries to impose on Latin America.
As Freed US Contractors Speak Out, a Look at the FARC, Colombian Paramilitary Groups and the Generals Being Feted for the Hostage Rescue Three American military contractors freed from the Colombian jungle have spoken out against their former captors, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell were among the fifteen hostages, including the French Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, rescued in an elaborate military operation last week in a major blow to the FARC. We host a roundtable discussion with Mario Murillo, author of Colombia and the United States; Michael Evans of the Colombia Documentation Project; and Manuel Rozental, a Colombian physician and human rights activist living in Canada following several threats on his life.
Written by Raúl Zibechi, Originally published in ALAI, 11 July 2008
Montevideo.- En el primer semestre de 2008 se ha producido un fuerte viraje político, que le permite a las derechas, locales y globales, y a las multinacionales, recuperar posiciones y retomar la ofensiva. El viraje no se circunscribe a Colombia, aunque tiene allí su epicentro mayor, sino que se extiende a países como Argentina, Bolivia y Perú, pero en lo esencial afecta a toda la región.
En Colombia, si alguna vez hubo algún equilibrio estratégico entre las FARC y las fuerzas armadas, en los últimos meses se ha quebrado a favor del Estado. La guerrilla perdió toda posibilidad de negociar un acuerdo humanitario en condiciones favorables, no puede mantener ofensivas militares ni políticas, sufre un agudo descrédito entre la población y ya no cuenta con aliados significativos en la región ni en el mundo. Aún así, lo más probable es que las FARC sigan adelante, con menguada capacidad de iniciativa y con la probable fragmentación entre sus mandos y frentes, como lo sugiere el desenlace de la liberación de los 15 secuestrados.
La estrategia delineada por el Comando Sur y el Pentágono, y plasmada en el Plan Colombia II, no contempla ni la derrota definitiva ni la negociación con la guerrilla. Eliminar a las FARC del escenario sería un pésimo negocio para la estrategia imperial de desestabilización y recolonización de la región andina, a la que Fidel Castro definió como “paz romana”. Ese proyecto no puede llevarse a cabo sin guerra, directa o indirecta, o sea sin la desestabilización permanente como forma de reconfiguración territorial y política de la estratégica región que incluye el arco que va de Venezuela a Bolivia y Paraguay, pasando por Colombia, Ecuador y Perú.
Por un lado, se trata de despejar la región andina para facilitar el negocio multinacional actual (minería a cielo abierto, hidrocarburos, biodiversidad, monocultivos para agrocombustibles) que supone tanto la apropiación de los bienes comunes como el desplazamiento de las poblaciones que aún sobreviven en esos espacios. No estamos ante un capitalismo, digamos, “normal”, el que fue capaz en su momento de establecer alianzas y pactos que dieron vida al Estado benefactor, en base a la triple alianza entre Estado, empresarios nacionales y sindicatos. Se trata de un modelo financiero-especulativo y de acumulación por desposesión, que sustituye las negoaciones por las guerras y la extracción de plusvalor por la apropiación de la naturaleza. O sea, un capitalismo de guerra para tiempos de decadencia imperial.
Este sistema asume la forma de capitalismo criminal o mafioso en países como Colombia, porque no sólo es funcional a la guerra y al robo, sino que ellas forman su núcleo central, su principal modo de acumulación. Eso explica la alianza estrecha entre empresas privadas de guerra, que cuentan en ese país con 2 a 3 mil mercenarios apodados ahora “contratistas”, con un Estado paramilitar como el que encabeza Alvaro Uribe, asentado en la alianza con paramilitares y narcotraficantes. En Colombia, a ese orden de cosas le han hecho frente tres fuerzas: la guerrilla, la izquierda del Polo Democrático y los movimientos sociales. La primera cree que puede vencer con las armas o negociar con ese nuevo poder. El Polo desestima el papel de Washington y de las multinacionales, como diseñadores y usufructuarios del Estado paramilitar mafioso, y sobreestima por lo tanto los márgenes democráticos. Los movimientos, por su parte, tienen grandes dificultades para superar la escala local y sectorial y no están en condiciones, por ahora, de erigirse en actores alternativos.
El Plan Colombia II fue el encargado de diseñar ese Estado militarista y en este momento busca afianzarlo. Ahora que las FARC no representan riesgo mayor para ese proyecto, aparece con claridad el objetivo de largo plazo trazado. Lejos de abrir espacios para la negociación, como desea la izquierda, el mensaje de los últimos meses indica un solo camino: ni la paz ni la rendición les garantiza la vida a los guerrilleros. O combaten y resisten o les espera el exterminio, como sucedió a fines de la década de 1980. Se trata de golpear sus núcleos territoriales para desplazarlos hacia las zonas fronterizas con Venezuela y Ecuador, donde el Plan Colombia II aspira a convertirlos en instrumento de la desestabilización regional.
Por eso Venezuela y Hugo Chávez adoptaron la estrategia de reducir la tensión con el gobierno de Uribe. No se trata de una cuestión ideológica, como pretenden algunos analistas. Ese debate vale para las mesas de café o los despachos académicos, pero tiene escasa utilidad cuando se trata de la sobrevivencia de proyectos de cambio social. Si se consolida el proyecto imperial, toda la región sufrirá con la polarización, de ahí la urgencia por desmontar los conflictos, tanto en Colombia como en Argentina y Bolivia.
Un eventual triunfo de Barack Obama tampoco modificará las cosas. Puede atemperar los rasgos más autoritarios del uribismo, lo que explica el nerviosismo del gobierno de Bogotá y su solícita alianza con el candidato republicano. Lo cierto es que los planes del Comando Sur no dependen del inquilino de la Casa Blanca, y que estos apuntan a promover una acción integral en la región que la convierta en una zona estable y un baluarte inexpugnable para mantener la hegemonía estadounidense a escala global. En suma, las elites imperiales aspiran usar la fuerza de las armas para revertir su decadencia, que pasa por la recolonización de América Latina. En un período como el actual, sólo la movilización popular y las vías políticas pueden contribuir a debilitar la ofensiva que viene del Norte.
Raúl Zibechi, periodista uruguayo, es docente e investigador en la Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, y asesor de varios grupos sociales.
Written by Colombian Action Network in Response to Free Trade (RECALCA),
Originally published in RECALCA, 18 June 2008 Translated by La Chiva
Bogotá - The Colombian government has closed Free Trade Agreement negotiations with Canada. These negotiations were extremely rapid, and unlike those with the United States, which lasted 16 rounds, were finalized in the fifth of six rounds initially planned at the outset of negotiations in July of 2007. Although the texts of the Agreement are unknown to the public, the texts of the Peru - Canada FTA are known; they are likely very similar to the Colombian agreement, as was the case with the US agreements with Peru and Colombia.
Also included are chapters and cooperation agreements on Labour and the Environment. These chapters and agreements further the many restrictions to workers’ rights and highlight the murders of trade unionists and other human rights violations that characterize Colombia. The Canadian government, an unconditional ally with Bush, has lent itself to signing this agreement in part as a way to facilitate the ratification of the FTA in the US Congress.
The rush to sign this Agreement shows that once the multitude of concessions are made to the US, this FTA will mean extending them to Canada. Proof of this is a report by the Colombian government, which indicates that to concretize Canada’s offer, in the last round “many sections were improved by offering parity with the agreement between Colombia and the United States.”
The government announced that the Canadian market will open up immediately for 98% of Colombia’s industrial exports, exports which are practically non-existent due to (among other things) the high cost of transport, since there are no direct [cargo] flights to Canada and cargo must pass for the US, where all merchandise must be unloaded and checked by customs.
The timeline for the full access of imports from Canada is set at 10 years, but effective immediately the majority of imports from Canada will be tariff free, which is to say that the government calculates that overnight, the emaciated and already under-protected agricultural and industrial sectors in Colombia will be capable of competing with their Canadian counterparts.
In this FTA, a cancellation clause and damages for the commercialization of goods and services have been negotiated, both of which are designed to protect Canadian investment and businesses in Colombia.
Since at least 1993, Colombia has had a trade deficit with Canada, which in 2007 reached $318 million concentrated in Colombian manufactured products such as textiles, footwear, plastic products, industrial metals, chemicals and paper as well as machinery and automotive equipment. Colombia’s imports from Canada last year reached $649 million, of which 57.2% were industrial products and 23.2% were agricultural, principally cereals and agro-industrial.
In contrast, Colombian exports to Canada reached $266 million last year, 90% of which consisted of coffee, coal, flowers, sugar and a handful of other agricultural products. The remaining 8% were basic industrial products.
Exports to Canada have a number of barriers, since there are specific sanitary requirements for seafood, plants, seeds, vegetables and fruit. These products must be inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Goods from the textile and clothing industries require special permission for each importation, as do fowl and dairy products. Coffee is regulated through a series of quotas and fruit and vegetables through seasonal tariffs.
Canada has low tariffs and Colombian products are already favoured because of the Generalized Preference System, but textiles, footwear, clothing, steel and processed food are excluded.
Canada imposes a value added tax of 7% on all imported products, as well as charging federal taxes on consumer goods. Neither of these obstacles have been removed by the FTA, which means that the future of exports – which the Colombian government claims will benefit from the agreement – is not encouraging. Together, these factors demonstrate that the principal objective of this FTA are not commercial, because it means a further concentration of primary material exports, imports of machinery and industrial goods, and little competition.
The average tariff in Canada is 0.9%, and 90.6% of imports to Canada are tax-free; hence the reason that Colombia does not have better participation in the Canadian market is because of a lack of exportable products and of a competitive environment, because of the high costs of transport and sanitary and phyto-sanitary regulations. None of these obstacles were removed in this FTA.
Thus, the principle objective of this FTA is to attract investment. Canada is well known for outward foreign direct investment in mining and services and is a judicial paradise for mining companies due to its flexible legislation and the impossibility of regulating these companies. In addition, mining multinationals based in Canada take advantage of the resources of pension funds in order to strengthen their finances and compete in the global market. Canada’s main investments in Colombia are in oil and gas as well as telecommunications. These together make up close to $3.5 billion.
The reality is that the FTA with Canada is designed to guarantee the pillage of our natural resources, reinforce neo-liberal policies, and entrench Colombia in a permanent and unjust division of labour as a nation dependant on exports of primary materials. It will also worsen the labour, environmental and social conditions of the Colombian people.
It is necessary to denounce the government’s intention to guarantee, through the signing of Free Trade Agreements, the continuation of the neo-liberal policies that are already dragging Colombia into one of the worst crises in history. RECALCA is a Colombian organization working against the FTAs. They can be reached at recalca [at] etb [dot] net [dot] co.
Written by Amy Goodman, Originally published in Truthdig.com, 9 July 2008
It is fantastic to see Ingrid Betancourt free. She was the Green Party candidate running for president of Colombia against Alvaro Uribe in 2002 when she was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) just days after appealing to the FARC to stop its campaign of kidnapping. She was held hostage for more than six years and was released last week along with 14 others. The flamboyant rescue operation by the Colombian army has been splashed across newspapers and TV screens globally, but the celebration of their release should not be confused with celebration of the Colombian government.
I reached Manuel Rozental at his home in Canada. He’s a Colombian doctor and human-rights activist who fled Colombia after receiving several threats on his life: “We’re talking about the regime with the worst human-rights record in the continent and the army with the worst human-rights record in the continent with the greatest U.S. support, including the contractors or mercenaries. So the fact that this regime was involved in this liberation does not and should not and cannot cover up the fact that it is a horrendous regime.”
Colombia has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid outside of Israel and Egypt. Amnesty International USA has called for a halt to all support for Colombia, saying “ ... torture, massacres, ‘disappearances’ and killings of noncombatants are widespread, and collusion between the armed forces and paramilitary groups continues to this day. In 2006, U.S. assistance to Colombia amounted to an estimated $728 million, approximately 80 percent of which was military and police assistance.”
John McCain was in Colombia on July 2, the day Betancourt was released along with U.S. military contractors and Colombian soldiers and police officers who were held. McCain’s links to Colombia are worth noting. The Huffington Post reports that a McCain fundraising event was just given by billionaire Carl Lindner of Cincinnati, the former CEO of Chiquita Brands International. Chiquita, under Lindner’s watch, paid and armed one of the most notorious right-wing paramilitary groups in Colombia, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The U.S. government fined Chiquita $25 million for its funding and arming of the AUC, designated a “foreign terrorist organization” by the U.S. State Department as early as 2001. One of the conditions of the deal was that Chiquita would not have to name the top executives involved.
The Huffington Post and The New York Times recently reported another McCain connection to Colombia. His top adviser, Charlie Black, resigned in March as chairman of the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm BKSH & Associates in order to work full time on the McCain campaign. Since 1998, BKSH has earned $1.8 million representing Occidental Petroleum, which has controversial oil operations in Colombia. Occidental worked with a military contractor and the Colombian military to counter pipeline attacks. In December 1998, the Colombian military dropped a bomb on the village of Santa Domingo, killing 11 adults and seven children. According to the Los Angeles Times, Occidental “supplied, directly or through contractors, troop transportation, planning facilities and fuel to Colombian military aircraft, including the helicopter crew accused of dropping the bomb.”
It was a photographed hug that grabbed the attention of Inter Press Service, an independent, global news agency. Soon after Betancourt was released, IPS published a story, “The General Ingrid Hugged,” about the national commander of the Colombian army, Gen. Mario Montoya. Montoya has been linked to a secret commando group from the late 1970s that bombed and massacred political opponents of the right wing. While the initial flurry of photo ops, with Betancourt hugging Montoya and standing with Uribe, has boosted public acclaim for the Uribe administration and the Colombian military, Betancourt is beginning to assert her traditionally oppositional status. She told RFI radio in France: “President Uribe, and not just President Uribe but Colombia as a whole, should change some things. ... I think the time has come to change the language of radicalism, extremism and hatred, the very strong words that cause deep hurt to a human being. ... There comes a time when one has to agree to talk to the people you hate.”
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America.
When a little nation reined in big miners, our ambassador got very political.
Written by Jennifer Moore, Originally published in The Tyee, July 11, 2008
Canada is "re-engaging with the Americas." That's what Minister of International Trade David Emerson told the Canada Council for the Americas in Vancouver this past February, elaborating that Canada wants to play "a positive role" to "help citizens throughout the region thrive in the world."
"You can count on Canada and Canadians," Emerson assured.
But in Ecuador, a small Andean nation a quarter the size of British Columbia, Canada's government has aligned itself with powerful Canadian mining interests to undo a recently passed decree crafted to strengthen protection for human rights and the environment.
The government decree, hailed as a momentous victory by a grassroots movement fighting big mining projects in Ecuador, would halt what critics call a pell-mell method of granting mining concessions heedless of communities' wishes or damage to nature.
Canada is a top investor in Ecuador and Canada's ambassador to Ecuador is Christian Lapointe. Lately, he has been very busy helping to put Canadian mining companies in good stead with the Ecuadorian government. Two companies have projects suspended and have been involved in violent confrontations with protesters. These and more than 20 others have had the constitutionality and, in some cases, legality of their mineral rights challenged.
The ambassador would seem to be simply carrying out his mandate. On the embassy website it is written: "to promote Canada's economic interests in Ecuador to support the efforts of Canadian companies who have selected Ecuador as a target market."
Salvador Quishpe, a former Ecuadorian congressman from the national indigenous movement, has a different view of how Lapointe should be spending his energies. "The ambassador should not act in service of the economic interests of his multinational companies, but in service of people's lives," proposes Quishpe.
"The ambassador needs to take responsibility. Not to just come and see where the gold and copper are, but to see what life is about here, in order to respect the lives of Ecuadorians."
Quishpe is also a spokesperson for a nationwide movement opposed to large scale mining in which Canadians -- with the aid of their ambassador -- are by far the most dominant players.
Ecuador's buried riches
Vancouver-based Dynasty Metals & Mining says that Ecuador's gold, copper and other ore deposits hold "tremendous potential."
Dynasty boasts on its website of being the "largest concession holder in southern Ecuador." It holds about 1,300 square kilometres in mineral rights, nearly the size of Glacier National Park.
One of the biggest recent gold discoveries was made by Toronto's Aurelian Resources. Its Fruta del Norte project in Salvador Quishpe's home province could become the second biggest gold mine on the continent. It has also attracted a handful of Canadian companies to buy nearby concessions.
Beyond healthy deposits, Dynasty also points out that "Ecuador has done much to foster and encourage foreign investment in its mining industry." Dynasty's website highlights Ecuador's adoption of the U.S. dollar in 2000 and neo-liberal mining law reforms around the same time.
Until this spring, Canadian firms were pleased to be operating in a country whose government had abolished a 3 per cent royalty on mineral production payable to the national treasury. By law, the government was prohibited from being able to take away mineral rights for reasons such as negative environmental or social impacts.
Bold new mining decree
But then, in late April, Ecuador's legislative body, the National Constituent Assembly, passed a sweeping new mining decree that seemed to spell doom for the industry and mining companies were shaken as stock prices tumbled.
Former assembly president Alberto Acosta, also past minister of Energy and Mines for President Rafael Correa, is an economist and environmentalist. Acosta has provided important support to the grassroots movement opposed to large scale mining.
During final debate over the decree, Acosta called the decision "historic," saying that it would bring an end to the "free for all" over mineral rights in the country. By this time over 5,000 mineral concessions had been granted or were in the process of application. Covering more than one fifth of Ecuador's national territory, 60 per cent were in the hands of only twelve concession holders.
Quishpe points out that "concessions don't pertain to any natural resource management plan," saying "they were granted without even verifying first what was there: a mountain, a valley, even an entire town."
The decree responded to such concerns. It suspends all large-scale mining activity and orders vast numbers of mineral concessions cancelled for reasons such as failure to consult with communities, proximity to headwaters and overlap with protected areas.
As the assembly broke into applause, Acosta said that whereas "companies have specialized in how to divide communities" leading to "near civil war" in parts of the country that "it is our responsibility to help recuperate the peace."
Quishpe was one of a number of protesters captured and treated cruelly during a confrontation with armed military and private security forces in the southern Amazon at the end of 2006. Concurrent with the election of President Correa's government, such conflicts flagged how important mining would be for this administration.
But there was a trap in the decree, says Jose Cueva, an environmentalist from the northwestern Valley of Intag: "One hundred and eighty days to rewrite the new mining law."
Getting in before the new constitution
Industry's timeline has taken over. Now only about 80 days following the mining decree, the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum has already handed a new mining law to the president. While also paying minimal attention to criteria for concession cancellations, such as community consultation or proximity to water supplies, the rush to write the law could override changes being made to the political constitution. The constitution is due to be completed by the assembly on July 26th.
Calling for a "national mining dialogue," Minister of Mines and Petroleum Galo Chiriboga kicked off discussions about the new mining law in a special meeting with industry leaders on April 28th. However, in January Chiriboga had already announced talks requested by companies such as Corriente and Aurelian that included such plans.
Not enough, Canadian companies received a personal invite to the launch from President Correa. Ambassador Lapointe helped set up the meeting.
Eight companies were represented together with the embassy, President Correa and his advisors, as well as the Minister Chiriboga and his advisors. Lapointe is reported to have "presented concerns of the Canadian government for a fair, stable and long-term investment environment in Ecuador."
Darryl Lindsay, president of the Mining Committee for the Ecuador-Canada Chamber of Commerce, says that companies followed up by forming a "Council of Responsible Mining Companies." It includes the eight companies with "a single representative that groups together a lot of the smaller companies." "Via the council," Lindsay says, "we have participation" at each of more than half a dozen meetings around the country with a representative at each of the working groups.
Invited, but hardly feeling welcome, grassroots groups that have been in ongoing conflicts with companies didn't find much room to participate. Lawyer and water activist Carlos Perez called the process "a mining monologue." The Federation of Campesino Organizations from the south-central province of Azuay, of which he is part, chose to present feedback about the new law after the dialogue was over.
Other groups simply refused to participate. "It's an anachronous process without any legitimacy," says Jose Cueva. "Once the new constitution is in place, then we can begin seriously working toward a new mining law."
In Cueva's mind, putting the law before the constitution means "that the advances achieved within the new constitution won't be binding. Like the right to water, the rights of nature, and [other changes] that aren't defined yet." Other changes could pertain to indigenous territorial rights and community right to consent.
Based upon a draft mining law, industry is already breathing a sigh of relief.
Prosperity and security
The new draft law promises to reinstate royalties competitive to the region and redistribute revenue to local authorities. That will be if companies can get a drill in the ground. People might still stand in the way.
"We didn't think that we could have a worse law. But now we see that we were wrong," says Carlos Perez. He is not referring to the absence of strong environmental protections. Nor is this a comment about how community consultation regulations have regressed, although he says these are issues too.
"When they included the public forces in order to control the communities, they managed to make a law worse than the last," states Perez. "Far from protecting the population, those that demand the right to live, the right to health, the right to life, far from protecting them, this protects the multinationals."
A draft of the new mining law "guarantees the continuity of mining activities through the intervention of the public forces at the petition of the mining contractor."
"If they approve this law as is," says human rights lawyer Wilton Guaranda, "it will mean that later on they will see much greater problems than those that exist." He notes how militarization in oil producing areas has deepened local conflicts, which occasionally become deadly.
The solution, he suggests, is greater respect for democracy. "It is a sensitive theme" Guaranda says, "that should be analyzed later with the utmost caution," indicating that the new law should wait. "The constitution should be the reference point for both communities and companies."
Last July, Prime Minister Harper traveled to Santiago, Chile and boasted of "Canada's foundational values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law" as he vowed to help expand "opportunities to all citizens" while spearheading Canada's "re-engagement in the Americas."
In Ecuador, those trying to rein in the ambitions of Canadian mining firms may wish Harper and his powerful friends could be less engaged with their small country. At least long enough to let citizens there democratically decide the fate of their mineral resources.
Written by Augusto Bohorquez, the Canada-Colombia Project, July 10 2008
Translated by La Chiva While briefly sidelined in the media by the celebrated release of 15 hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on July 2, the Colombian president, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, remains in a deep legitimacy crisis because of two recent legal cases in the country. The first, and perhaps the most widely acknowledged, is that of the paramilitary politician scandal, often referred to as ‘para-política’, in which more than thirty Colombian congress members have found themselves behind bars for direct links to right-wing paramilitary death squads. The second is the July 26 Supreme Court Justice’s sentence that imprisoned former house representative Yidis Medina for committing a crime: namely, for accepting a bribe. That bribe led to the re-election of the president, a scandal if ever there was one.
After the release of the court’s verdict on the evening of June 26th, President Uribe appeared on national television calling for the dismantlement of democracy in Colombia, effectively declaring the latest Latin American dictatorship. As the house was crumbling, the thief was exposed and called for those he stole from to legitimize the theft: Uribe called for a replay of the 2006 election through a national referendum. It is not surprising that this dictatorship, as in the last era of dictatorships in the region, has found refuge and legitimacy through the foreign policies of countries like Canada, the United States, and the European states, who continue to protect and act in the interests of transnational capital, most notably through the pursuit of Free Trade Agreements that now must be seen as illegitimate as Uribe’s current presidency.
Uribe’s televised address came hours after the Colombian Supreme Court’s verdict on the case of Yidis Medina, who was found guilty of accepting bribes from Uribe’s government. The court found that Medina and other congress members had accepted political favors in exchange for their votes in the approval of a legislative act that would modify the Colombian Constitution to allow the re-election of Álvaro Uribe. Articles 405 and 407 of the Colombian Penal Code identify the acts of bribery as criminal.
In concordance with the rule of law, the Colombian Supreme Court of Justice’s verdict affirmed “the fight of the State against impunity has constitutional importance that cannot be reduced to simple rhetoric … a situation that would be incompatible with the philosophy of democracy and the rule of law.”
“An illegal act of criminal connotations,” the verdict demands, “cannot possess any validity.”
Now, the question is what happens to votes obtained through a crime?
Should illegal votes be counted or annulled? Sadly for those hoping for a quick answer, Colombia is a country of laws, and there exists no legal norm defining what happens to illegal votes. Recognizing this legal void, the Medina verdict concludes, “The crime cannot generate any type of constitutional nor legal recognition.”
Because Colombia’s constitutional code is based on norms (the civil code tradition), there must be prior sanction of the law, written and promulgated, for a norm to be deemed valid. In other words, there is no established norm describing whether or not to annul votes obtained through a crime.
Therefore, Colombia’s most serious institutional crisis in recent memory is not a question of illegality but illegitimacy. Although the Colombian executive is portrayed by the uncritical mass media as enjoying over 80 per cent popularity, it has no legitimacy. It is important to note that governments with dismal popular support, such as that of the United States, are often held up as the most legitimate. Therefore, the legitimacy of a democratic government means much more than a popularity contest.
The call for a referendum, however, is a populist solution to this institutional crisis, the desperate reaction of a thief caught in the act: to attempt to make the crime legitimate. The executive’s solution to override the constitutional division of powers is thus the imposition of a dictatorship.
No matter what happens, the decision of the Supreme Court of Justice says makes one point loud and clear: Uribe’s re-election was illegitimate!
In the crime of bribery, there must be a beneficiary (Medina) and a benefactor (Uribe). Medina’s guilt of a criminal act, proven in the court of law, thus implies the illegitimacy of Uribe’s re-election, which means that he is not the constitutional president of Colombia; he has no mandate to govern, much less override the constitutional division of powers and unilaterally call for a national referendum.
Faced with an illegitimate government in Colombia, social and popular sectors have called for the defense of national sovereignty and against the dictatorial illegitimacy of Uribe. Former presidential candidate and professor of constitutional law, Carlos Gaviria, called for unity in a recent statement: “Now is the time for all democratic sectors (social and political) in the country to come to the defense of what little of our democracy we have left. We must rally behind our courts and scream with all the force of our voice that Uribe must not continue to govern the country to preserve his impunity and impose a populist dictatorship."
Given the reality of an illegitimate government in Colombia, the Free Trade Agreements negotiated with that government are also illegitimate. Moreover, governments involved in such negotiations are justifying such anti-democratic behavior. Condemned in his own country for benefiting from a crime that led to his re-election, the only legitimacy possible for him is to have governments in Canada, the United States and Europe patting him on the back and declaring him an ally.
Canada, which has recently concluded negotiations with the Colombian government for an FTA, must indefinitely stop the process towards ratification. If it does not, it will be painfully clear that Canada does not stand for democracies held up by constitutions and the rule of law but illegitimate regimes made more palatable as long as the profits and interests of transnationals – especially in the extractive, telecommunications and financial sectors – are protected and upheld. Moreover, it would reveal more accurately the Canadian vision of ‘development’.
There is a need in Canada for informed public debate on the FTA with Colombia precisely because the ratification of such an agreement, while turning a blind eye to the nature of the bargaining partner, means nothing more than defending the thief in the hopes that one will benefit from the spoils of the crime.
This is an ethical question for Canadians and their government, the answer of which will resonate in Colombia and the world as what Canada really stands for. At the very least, Canadians should have a say in that.
Hoy día la discusión en Colombia es la ilegitimad del presidente Uribe. De una parte, por los conocidos casos de la política paramilitar; y de otra parte, con la condena a Yidis Medina, por parte de la Corte Suprema de Justicia, por el delito de cohecho.
El pasado 26 de junio, Álvaro Uribe, en un comunicado televisado, llamó a la desmantelacion del estado de derecho y, por lo tanto, al nacimiento de una nueva dictadura en Latinoamérica apoyada y repaldada por medio de la política exterior de los paises de la Union Europea, Canadá, y Estados Unidos impulsando políticas al beneficio coorporativo por medio de los Tratados de Libre Comercio que garantizan excelentes ganancias a las transnacionales.
El 26 de junio de 2008, la Corte Suprema de Justicia colombiana emitió el fallo en el caso de Yidis Medina. La ex diputada fue encontrada culpable del delito de cohecho, donde se comprobó que el gobierno ofreció prebendas y beneficios a los congresistas para conseguir la mayoría requerida para aprobar el Acto legislativo que modificaba la constitución para permitir la reelección de Álvaro Uribe. Dentro del ordenamiento jurídico colombiano ésta conducta es identificada como delito y se denomina cohecho, estipulado y regulado en el código penal desde el artículo 405 a 407  .
La Corte falla en consecuencia con el estado social de derecho cuando afirma que “la lucha del Estado contra la impunidad tiene relevancia constitucional la cual no puede quedar reducida a simple retórica dirigida a la tribuna, resulta incompatible con la filosofía del Estado social y democrático de derecho que se precia de actuar sometido al imperio de la ley, que un acto jurídico desviado, de connotaciones delictivas tenga vigencia y ejecutividad.”
Pero, ¿qué sucede con los votos que se consiguieron al quedar configurado el delito de cohecho?, la respuesta a esta pregunta, en mi opinión, debe dar solución al tema en forma definitiva.
¿Deben tenerse en cuenta?, ¿deben anularse? ¿Qué hacer con estos votos?, ¿son válidos? Lamentablemente para la coyuntura jurídica nacional, y lo digo sólo porque se trata de un país de leyes, no hay en el ordenamiento una norma que defina de forma clara que pasa con esos votos. Pero ante esta situación, la misma Corte Suprema de Justicia, en su fallo, llena este vacío jurídico cuando concluye: “que el delito no puede generar ningún tipo de legitimación constitucional o legal”
Como el ordenamiento constitucional colombiano es estrictamente normativo, pues no puede válidamente existir sanción sin ley previa, escrita y cierta, luego no se le puede restar validez a los votos, porque no existe en el ordenamiento una norma anterior al hecho que sancione estos votos con la invalidez.
La solución a la más grave crisis institucional colombiana no es de tipo normativa, es un problema de legitimidad. Legitimidad inexistente del ejecutivo colombiano, Álvaro Uribe, aun con la manipulación de los medios de comunicación dándole un 82% de popularidad. El llamado del señor Uribe a un referendo; simplemente, es una salida populista a la crisis de la institucionalidad, para legalizar o legitimar el delito. Dicha salida representaría la imposición dictatorial del ejecutivo.
¡La reelección de Uribe fue ilegítima! eso es lo que quiere decir la decisión de la Corte Suprema de Justicia al encontrar a Yidis Medina culpable del delito de cohecho, puesto que para que exista este delito punible es necesario un benefactor y un beneficiario. Por lo tanto, el actual mandato de Álvaro Uribe es ilegítimo, porque está soportado sobre el acto delictivo que tiene en la cárcel a Medina. Esto demuestra que Uribe no tiene ninguna facultad para llamar a referendo, puesto que no es el presidente constitucional de Colombia.
Para enfrentar la ilegimidad en Colombia, se convoca a un frente popular en defensa de la soberanía nacional y contra la ilegitimidad dictatorial de Uribe. Carlos Gaviria, ex-candidato presidencial, llama a la unidad y dice: “Es el momento de que todos los sectores (sociales y políticos) demócratas del país, salgamos a defender lo poco que queda de nuestra democracia, rodeemos a nuestras Cortes y gritemos con toda la fuerza de nuestra voz que Uribe no puede seguir gobernando al país para preservar su impunidad e imponer una dictadura populista ”
Frente a esta realidad, no es posible, ni justificable que Canadá y EEUU apoyen Tratados de Libre Comercio; así como tampoco las acciones de este Gobierno. Uribe, un personaje que debe ser judicializado, en cambio, es reelegido (de manera fraudulenta) y cuenta con la complicidad del Gobierno del Canadá y Estados Unidos, al considerarlo el único aliado en la región.
Canadá debe parar indefinidamente el Tratado de Libre Comercio con gobiernos ilegítimos como el colombiano. Estos tratados, en realidad, presentan excelentes ganancias a trasnacionales canadienses - especialmente en minería, gas, telecomunicaciones y finananzas-, escondidas tras la fachada del desarrollo de los pueblos.
En Canadá se tiene que abrir el debate público sobre el asunto del libre comercio con Colombia, pues al aprobar y ratificar el tratado bilateral, Colombia-Canadá, fortalecerá el gobierno ilegítimo dictatorial de Uribe; y de esta forma, Canadá enviará al mundo las directrices de su política exterior.
Canadá, al apoyar a un dictador, está demostrando al mundo que sobrepone los intereses comerciales sobre el estado de derecho. Si el gobierno de Harper continúa apoyando y recompensando un gobierno ilegítimo, el mundo entenderá el mensaje de Canadá para el mundo.
 Asociación de Cabildos indígenas del Norte del Cauca (ACIN). (junio 27 de 2008) Condenada Yidis Medina. Corte Suprema de Justicia, Sala de Casación Penal. Versión electrónica. Encontrado el 30 de junio de 2008 http://www.nasaacin.org/noticias.htm?x=8096