April 24, 2009

Mobilizing against the Canada-Colombia FTA: 'Shame on You' for endorsing a murderous regime

By La Chiva Collective (and friends)
April 24, 2009

Over the past several weeks, trouble has been brewing for Canada’s Conservative and Liberal parties over their support for the ratification of the Canadian government’s Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.

A transnational peoples’ response to the Canada-Colombia FTA

Negotiated entirely behind closed doors and in defiance of the recommendations of the Canadian parliament’s own Standing Committee on International Trade, pressure from diverse sectors of civil society and citizens in North America and Colombia to reject the controversial agreement has been pointed and swift.

Mobilizations are being planned for May 1 (12 noon) to stop the Canada-Colombia FTA, and particular emphasis is being placed in the Liberal Party Convention, to be held at Canada Place in Downtown Vancouver. Diverse social sectors are coming together at noon to deliver a message to the Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party: ‘Shame on You,’ if they help the Conservatives absolve and make Canada complicit in the crimes of the Colombian government committed against its own people.

In addition to these demonstrations, ‘phone booths’ will be set up in various Canadian cities on Friday, April 24, where Canadians are invited to call their elected representatives and urge them to oppose the Canada-Colombia FTA and all that it implies.

The Council of Canadians launched a nation-wide Action Alert online, urging Canadians to get in touch with their MPs and speak out against the FTA in their communities.

Hundreds of emails, letters and phone calls have already been sent and made. If there is a concerned Canadian that has not done so, the time to act is now.

An uneasy alliance

Current events in Colombia are making the picture they paint of their closest Latin American ally difficult to sustain.

Notable is the recent news of the 22 April murder of Edgar Martinez Ruiz, a member of a small mining and agricultural association in the southern region of Colombia’s Bolivar department, FEDEAGROBISMOL, near San Pablo, just two minutes from a Colombian police checkpoint. Christian Peacemaker Teams has released a communique available in English.

The Colombian magazine Semana and the BBC have both reported that Colombian former paramilitary chief and drug lord, Diego Murillo, alias ‘Don Berna,’ who was recently sentenced to 31 years in US prison for drug trafficking, has revealed his financial support for President Uribe during his 2002 election campaign.

Accumulating pressure

In Alberta and British Columbia, several events have taken place over the past several weeks involving hundreds of participants. Gustavo Ulcué, an indigenous activist from Cauca, Colombia, has toured Western Canada sharing his community's experience of resistance to the FTAs. In 2005 his community held a popular consultation on the FTAs in which 98 percent of voters rejected the 'free trade' model.

In 2008, the indigenous of Colombia convened a popular mobilization involving 60,000 Colombians from diverse social sectors, the Social and Community Minga, which proposed a five point agenda, one of which was the rejection of the FTAs. Mr. Ulcué also participated in five radio interviews over the course of a week, some of which are available online: Radio Canada International, CJSF (Part 1, Part 2), and Coop Radio in Vancouver.

In Colombia, dozens of organizations and public figures sent a letter to Canadian parliamentarians urging them not to approve the FTA on the grounds that it would make Canada complicit in the numerous crimes and violations of human rights committed by the Colombian government. They note that this situation continues and will be exacerbated by Canada’s political support for Uribe government.

The office of Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe responded to this letter, affirming the Bloc's opposition to the FTA.

Mingas-FTA, a group of individuals across North America and Colombia aimed at promoting sovereignty and economic development, strengthening democracy and improving labor conditions in Colombia, has published a letter with an online petition directed at Canadian parliamentarians. In that letter, they point out that the Canada-Colombia FTA is not intended to benefit the average Canadian or Colombian but to further impose “the same failed economic model” responsible for the current global economic crisis. This petition has gathered over 300 signatures from around the world and is swiftly gathering support.

The Canadian Labour movement has acted strongly against the Canada-Colombia FTA through letters from Canadian public sector unions and letter campaigns from its members. CUPE, CUPW, PSAC, NUPGE, OPSEU, OSSTF, BCTF, CAW, USW and the CLC have been distributing a comic Top Ten Reasons why Canada should Not Ratify the FTA with Colombia to their members along with a petition calling for a human rights impact assessment.

The Council of Canadians is also circulating a letter directed at Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, demanding that the Canadian parliament follow the recommendations of its own Standing Committee, which called for an independent human rights assessment before ratifying the FTA with Colombia.

Opposition to the Canada-Colombia FTA cannot be ignored

Facing growing opposition, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was forced to address critics while at the V Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Rather than address and substantiate how supporting the Colombian regime makes Canada a ‘third way’ for Latin American countries, Harper ‘agreed to disagree’ and implied that those who disagree with such initiatives “don’t like modern economic policy”.

It is unsure what the Prime Minister means by ‘modern’ when the Canada-Colombia FTA is a carbon copy of the 15 year-old NAFTA, from which average Canadians have seen little more than broken promises. What is sure is Harper's failure to understand that is was the free market fundamentalism of projects like FTAs that led us to the current crisis. Well, he's not the one losing his home and his job... not yet.

The massive effort across Canada, the United States and Colombia to oppose the Canada-Colombia FTA is gathering strength. This effort is having an impact at the highest places, where the Canadian government is having trouble responding to the contradiction of its reputation for the defense of human rights and its support of one of the most repressive regimes in the hemisphere, not to mention its defense of deepening the backward policies and culture of kleptocracy that got us into this economic crisis.

The Canada-Colombia FTA makes no sense for Colombians and Canadians. Bilateral trade is minscule, and Colombian products already enter Canada freely. This is nothing more than a political tool to absolve human rights abuses of the Colombian regime and to encourage the Democrats in the US to approve the FTA there. It will be stopped!

Phone, email and hound the MPs!

On May 1, North Americans and Colombian stand together to say “Shame on You!”

Not in our name will this murderous regime be endorsed!

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