April 12, 2009

Free Trade and Human Rights – SOS Colombia raises a cry of alarm

By GUY TAILLEFER, originally published in Le Devoir, April 9, 2009.
Translated by La Chiva.

The Coalition SOS Colombia is mobilizing to try and convince the Federal Parliament not to ratify the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, negotiated by the governments of Stephen Harper and Alvaro Uribe. The fifty members of the coalition of unionists and human rights organizations that held a demonstration yesterday in front of the Guy Favreau complex in Montréal claim that the agreement is less about free trade and more about “an open buffet of primary materials,” destined to protect Canadian commercial interests in Colombia, most of which are mining interests.

The accord signed last November is so inadequate in terms of environmental protection and the rights of workers, according to the Coalition, that its ratification would be the equivalent of a “permit for criminal actions” for Canadian mining companies in Colombia.

Federal Members of Parliament have until May 11th to pronounce themselves on the commercial deal. Members of the Bloc Québecois and the New Democratic Party are opposed to the agreement. The Liberals, who have asked for substantial modifications, are more ambivalent. If the Conservatives and Liberals ratify the deal, according to detractors, they will find themselves supporting incessant human rights violations, which the Colombian government is carrying out “in total impunity.”

SOS Colombia notes that through President Alvaro Uribe’s policy of so called “democratic security,” violations of human rights abuses and assassinations of activists have multiplied. Since Uribe’s arrival in power in 2002, political violence has resulted in more than 13,500 deaths. Unionists are particularly targeted.

Last week, fifteen Colombian opposition congresspeople and senators sent a letter to the Parliamentary International Trade Committee urging them to block the free trade agreement.

According to the letter, Uribe “would not pass a human rights test,” and the agreement would result in giving him absolution.

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