Twenty-one days to make our voices against free trade with Colombia heard
Over the last two weeks, people across Canada and Colombia have mobilized in order to show their rejection of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Though there are only a handful of organizations in Canada dedicated to informing Canadians about bilateral trade agreements, friends of Colombia, working from their hearts and not their wallets, spoke out about the deal.
Gustavo Ulcué, a Nasa man from the Communications Network in Northern Cauca, Colombia, gave talks in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer to students and addressed crowds about his concerns regarding the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
He shared his community's responses to Free Trade Agreements, such as the popular consultation of 2005 and the Social and Community Minga. Ulcué was interviewed on Radio Canada International and campus community radio stations.
While visiting the prairies, Ulcué also met with Colombians living in Canada, activists working on campaigns to shut down the tar sands, and people working in solidarity with Indigenous struggles.
Ulcué is currently in Vancouver, and will take part in a series of events in advance of the Liberal Party Convention at the end of April in Vancouver.
Folks in Sault Ste Marie held a "creativity jam" night of poetry, music and guest speakers; a film and discussion night; and a panel event on Colombia. THey also launched a postcard campaign targeting Liberals in Ottawa, and continued their ongoing political work supporting the NDP in their work against the free trade deal.
In Montreal, more than fifty members of the SOS Colombia Coalition protested the free trade deal in front of the Guy Favreau Complex. Members of SOS Colombia performed street theater and music to make their rejection of the deal clear.
Also in Montréal, the Salsa Descalza group did salsa-street theater to manifest their opposition to the deal.
In Kelowna, BC, activists confronted Conservative MP Ron Cannan, a member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, about his support for the deal. They were forced out of his office, as Cannan defended himself by claiming that he did not have to address their concerns because they live outside of his riding.
Dr. Manuel Rozental, a Colombian surgeon and social justice activist, toured Vancouver Island, speaking to hundreds of people about the people's agenda and resistance to free trade. "In my talks, I help place the Free Trade Agreement in the context of a failed economic model leading to economic, ecologic crisis and a crisis of social reproduction and the reproduction of life," he said. Rozental was invited to Canada by the BC Teacher's Federation.
"People have been shocked to learn that on November 21st 2008, the day the Minga (an enormous peaceful mobilization against the neoliberal economic model and free trade agreements) arrived in Bogota, President Uribe and Prime Minister Harper signed the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement in Lima. That day, President Uribe offered to open 50 per cent of Colombian territory to mining and hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation before the end of his term in 2010," said Rozental.
Journalist Dawn Paley toured five cities in BC and spoke with hundreds of people about the links between Canadian mining, oil and gas companies operating in the Alberta tar sands and the Canada-Colombia FTA.
On the East coast, the Atlantic Region Solidarity Network did a letter writing campaign against the FTA, and in the US, the organization Mingas launched a campaign against the Canada-Colombia deal.
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.
Press releases denouncing Bill C-23, within which lies the Canada-Colombia deal, were issued by CUPE and USW.
"We are urging opposition parties to reject this bill. I cannot understand why Prime Minister Harper is prepared to sign agreements with a country that sees trade unionists murdered at a rate more than the entire world experiences in total, or with a country where the drug trade, and the paramilitary forces have a grip on a $6 billion illegal business," said CUPE National President Paul Moist.
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. Union members are sending letters to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and key liberals and met with them in their home ridings during recess.
Upcoming events across Canada
Saturday, April 18
Film Presentation and Discussion:
"Country of the Peoples without Owners"
A documentary produced by the Communications Network of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN) about the recent popular mobilizations in Colombia. 45 Minutes; Spanish with English subtitles.
Speakers include: Doña Vicky (CIPO, Oaxaca), Manuel Rozental (Hemispheric Social Alliance, Polo Democratico Alternativo, Colombia) and Gustavo Ulcué (ACIN).
Location: UBC Robson Square (Downtown Vancouver), Room C215,
Presented by: CIPO, Grupo Atarraya, La Chiva Collective, and UBC Latin American Studies
Sunday, April 19, Time: 10am-5pm
Public Workshop - Colombia, the Conflicts and Beyond: Perspectives on a Canadian Ally
Location: SFU Segal School of Business (Downtown Vancouver), 500 Granville Street
Sunday, April 26, 2009, 10:00am - 7:30pm
Undermining Sustainability Conference, featuring Justin Podur of El Camino on the Canada-Colombia FTA
Earth Sciences, Room 1050 (ES 1050), University of Toronto, 5 Bancroft Avenue
Sault Ste Marie
Wednesday April 22, 8:00 pm
A Country of People without Owners
Arcadia Coffeehouse, 823 Queen Street East
Background on the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement
On March 26th, Member of Parliament Jay Hill introduced Bill 23 and Bill 24 to Parliament on behalf of International Trade Minister Stockwell Day.
Bill 23, called the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act is the enacting legislation for the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Bill 24 is the Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act, the enacting legislation for the Canada-Peru Free Trade Deal.
Following the tabling of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, NDP MP Peter Julian the following statement to Parliament:
More than a dozen human rights defenders and 46 trade unionists were killed by paramilitaries in 2008 alone, double the number in 2007... Thousands of paramilitaries with ties to the government are forcing poor peasants off the land and taking it over with the regime's complicity... More than 1,500 peasants have been massacred so far by the Colombia military as so-called “false positives”. This is no less than the cold-blooded murder of innocent people.... We oppose the blood that is on this agreement.
The fact that the bill was introduced immediately to Parliament instead of having the treaties tabled first, as was the case with the Peru Agreement, shows that Stephen Harper's Conservatives are keen to fast-track the deal. Less than a week after Bill C-23 was tabled, Members of Parliament went to their constituency offices for Easter Recess, leaving them with a few short days during which to oppose the deal when Parliament resumes again. All of this despite the fact that an all-party report about the deal written by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade last summer recommended not going ahead with a Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement until an independent human rights assessment is carried out.
The NDP has opposed the Canada-Colombia FTA since its inception. The Bloc Quebecois, while not opposed to "free trade" in principle, has gone on the record to say that they oppose a deal with Colombia. While the Liberals initially condemned the CCFTA, their new leadership appears to have had a change of heart. Scott Brison, Liberal member of the Standing Committee on International Trade, has demonstrated his support for the agreement. It is expected that other members of the Liberal party will follow suit and support the Conservatives.
Click here to read an exhaustive report on the devastating effects the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement will have if implemented.