June 27, 2009

Country of the Peoples without Owners

La Chiva (and friends) are winding up for a major fundraising campaign in support of the Tejido de Comunicación of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN).

We'll be holding two salsa events in Vancouver and film screenings in cities across western Canada to raise awareness, support and funds for the courageous indigenous communicators.

The film we'll be showing at those events is 'Country of the Peoples Without Owners' (described below) and available (to you!) upon a donation of $20.00 or more using the button to the right.

Here's a synopsis:

Colombia will never be the same after those 61 historic days of the “Social and Community Minga,” which was initiated on October 11th 2008, and culminated in a massive rally in the Simon Bolivar Plaza in downtown Bogotá on a rainswept afternoon in late November. The protagonists and witnesses of these dramatic events were too busy making history to comprehend or anticipate the impact of their actions. From the department of Cauca, thinking people, people of the word, people of dignity rose up, united together with the “other Colombia,” to reject State policies that, through terror, subjugate the people to misery and hunger.

As was expected, the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe responded to this peaceful mobilization with terror, resulting in at least two deaths and 120 wounded, some severely. The people resisted the relentless attacks of the major corporate media, the tricks and the lies of Administration officials, and the machinations of the government that were activated against their dignity.

What happens when the poorest and most marginal people confront, without weapons, the most powerful regime of Latin America, sustained and backed by the economic, political, military and media powers of the United States and their transnational corporate allies? The response is apparent in the wisdom of the five-point agenda that provided the fuel for the Popular Minga. This is what the film “A Country of Peoples: Without Owners” depicts through moving and exemplary actions that provide the seeds for liberty.

This documentary is conceptualized, written, edited and produced by the Communication Team of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN.

A Country of People Without Owners

Following the resistance of the indigenous population of Colombia to the repression by the U.S.-backed regime of President Alvaro Uribe.


Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca / Colombia / 2009 / 60 min / Spanish with English Subtitles

A follow-up to "We Are Raised with our Staffs of Authority in Hand," an award winning documentary about the resistance of the indigenous population of Colombia to the repression by the U.S.-backed regime of President Alvaro Uribe.

From October 12 to November 24, 2008, Colombia's popular movement, led by the country's indigenous organizations, carried out an unprecedented six-week mobilization and march to protest against the government's economic development and military/security policies, as well as the ongoing violations of the rights of indigenous people.

The Minga Popular was the beginning of a nation-wide, popular uprising designed to transform Colombian society through coordinated, non-violent mobilization.

One of the keys to the success of the 1-1/2 month mobilization was the indigenous community's strategic use of communication technology, which, combined with their traditional communication practices of grassroots assemblies and public consultations, was able to construct an alternative (people's) narrative about their broader struggle to the Colombian people.

The heart of this work was carried out on the community station Radio Payumat, the voice of the indigenous people of Northern Cauca. However, since December 13th, the station has been off the air after an act of ruthless sabotage severely damaged its transmitter, a deliberate attempt to silence the indigenous movement.

To receive a copy of this documentary, donate $20.00 or more (via the button on the right) to our campaign in support of the Communications Weaving (Tejido de Communicación) of the ACIN.

All donations/proceeds collected will be used to help get ACIN’s community radio station Radio Payumat, back on the air after it was sabotaged in late December 2008.

June 24, 2009


Jorge Enrique Robledo
Senator of the Polo Democrático Alternativo, Colombia

The Prosecutor General of Colombia , Alejandro Ordóñez, has decided to conduct a preliminary investigation against me "for alleged ties with illegal groups". The reason? His office received a request from the National Police because, according to them, my name appears in the computer of slain guerrilla leader Raul Reyes, a computer that's been in the hands of the government for 15 months!

With a completely clear conscience I will respond to any accusations made against me. At the same time, I emphatically reject, with outrage, what my personal convictions lead me to believe is a sinister conspiracy against me by the government of Alvaro Uribe Velez -- a government in which high-ranking officials in the Executive branch, directors of the Administrative Department of Security and drug traffickers have gone so far as to plot against the Colombian Supreme Court.

My almost three decades as a full time professor at the National University of Colombia and forty years of public service allow anyone who wishes, to verify that I have been absolutely faithful to the principles of MOIR, an organization that has always rejected armed struggle and kidnapping. And it's well known that I would not have joined the Polo Democrático Alternativo if they had not written these principles of nonviolence into their program. Anyone who would say otherwise is a shameless liar.

It's obvious that they are attacking me because of my uncompromising opposition to the economic, political and social policies of the Uribe regime, as well as my criticism of his subservience to the dictates of the White House, of policies that leave Colombians unemployed and hungry, of the surrender of our natural resources and privatizations, of the destruction of our agricultural sector, of the presidential cover up to protect pro-Uribe Congress members and government officials who have ties with the death squads, of the immorality of the Justice Minister, of the shady and illegal business dealings of the president's sons and of his plan to impose a tyranny (by changing the Constitution to allow himself to run for a third term).

It's not a coincidence that this slanderous accusation, aimed at discrediting me, is launched as Alvaro Uribe struggles to get a Free Trade Agreement passed in Canada, a country where a version of my denunciation of the shady business dealings of the president's sons is circulating and in whose parliament I explained a short time ago, to the international trade commission, why the FTA agreement should not be ratified.

How proud I feel for not having supported the appointment of the current Prosecutor General of Colombia.

As the true nature of Uribe's government is increasingly exposed both within Colombia and abroad, Uribe and his supporters are obviously becoming more and more desperate. So it's not surprising that they are stepping up their attacks on the Polo Democrático Alternativo and trying to silence our party's leaders and, along with them, all the other groups and individuals who are resisting.

President Alvaro Uribe Velez should understand one thing: that this senator, who with dedication and integrity is committed to defending our national dignity and true democracy, will not be silenced by the threat of his attacks. And I am convinced that those who, from other political positions, are also opposed to this disgraceful regime, will not be silenced either.

Bogotá, June 11, 2009

Calling for an Anti-Protectionist Strategy to Go with Rhetoric

By Michelle Collins
June 17, 2009
Embassy Magazine

MONTREAL—Gone was the talk of promoting human rights, providing opportunities for prosperity and, as a result, the strengthening of democracy and stability in a wartorn land. Instead, during a press conference with visiting Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in Ottawa last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a different tack in spelling out why Parliament needed to pass the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.

"I call on Parliament to pass this free trade agreement and send a clear message from Canada against protectionism," Mr. Harper said as his Latin American counterpart looked on. "It is the right thing to do for Canada, to do for Colombia and the right thing to do for the global economy."

Protectionism has quickly become the negative buzzword of the financial crisis, especially, it seems, in Canada. Exactly how big a threat protectionist policies are for a recovery depends on who one asks, but most agree that Canada's best defence is to have a good offence, including a real plan of action, which—rhetoric aside—has been largely absent.

With so much unknown when it comes to the current crisis, most experts refer back to the Great Depression of the 1930s to point out how protectionist policies implemented by great powers such as the United States and Great Britain exacerbated the tough times.

Though hesitant to say the world, and the United States in particular, has again followed such a path, experts say the edge of the cliff is not far off.

At the Economic Forum of the Americas in Montreal last week—a small-scale model of the Davos conference usually dominated by grand talk of growing economies and burgeoning markets in the developing world—great minds gathered to comment on the current state of affairs, and make cautious predictions for the future.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick avoided panic by describing the rate of protectionism he's seen as only a "low-grade fever" for now. Former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright, however, was more pessimistic in her assessment and warned that protectionism could lead to "an economic Armageddon."

In Montreal, the protectionism theme carried the conference, with most agreeing that nothing good could come of it. Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Bank of the Americas, followed the view that much of Latin America's wealth depends a great deal on the success of free trade agreements there, declaring that Latin American countries will "trade their way out of the recession."

Meanwhile, Canadian Trade Minister Stockwell Day has also been warning against protectionist activity in every speech he makes.

"When protectionist walls get built up, economies come down," Mr. Day declared in Montreal. "We are sending out a signal, first of all, for our own interest, because we believe this will advance our interests, but also as a signal to the rest of the global community that we do profoundly believe one of the ways to move through this time of downturn is to open up these doors."

But as the world economy has become increasingly integrated and complex, closing a nation's "doors" to trade has become just one method of protectionism.

"Protectionism can take many forms," said Danielle Goldfarb, associate director of the International Trade and Investment Centre at the Conference Board of Canada. "We're even seeing that it's difficult to separate the actual protectionist action versus protectionist rhetoric, and there's a range of things that one could use that could protect domestic industry from outside competition."

Indeed, Canada is already feeling the impact of these various forms of protectionism taking hold in the U.S., said Jayson Myers, president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

The "Buy American" provisions slipped into America's massive stimulus bill has become but one hurdle for Canadian businesses to jump, Mr. Myers said, warning that such local-content requirements will show up in even more U.S. legislation.

"Governments have become more creative, so they've created other barriers to trade in goods, services and investment often now in the forms of policies like Buy American, buy local," said Debra Steger, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. "Sometimes product standards, even other standards on goods, can be a barrier to trade if the standard is applied differently to domestic production than to other countries. [Protectionism] has been around for a long time; I guess what has changed is the form it takes."

Exactly what the Canadian government is doing to make up for the effects of protectionism has also become somewhat tricky to follow, experts say. While the government's outspoken interest in quickly finalizing trade agreements with countries such as Colombia is not without economic merit, the experts agree that Canada's time and energy is better spent resolving problems with the U.S.

"I think those are less important, quite frankly," Ms. Steger said of the trade agreements Canada is pursuing in Latin America. "We're not doing those so much for trade as we are for political reasons. If you take a purely trade and economic perspective in terms of what's in it for us and our own economy, our own economic well-being, I would say focus on eliminating the problems with the U.S. relationship and get down to negotiating this big bold agreement with the EU."

Most encouraging up till now, say experts, is that Canada's provinces have signalled they are interested in opening their public procurement tenders to foreign investors, particularly the U.S., but they urge the federal government to more aggressively pick up the lead.

"I think we need a strategy here, we need a very clear strategy with the provinces on board, one that goes beyond the short-term," Mr. Myers said. "What's our strategy to keep our markets open? That's going to require a lot of political courage as well as support from the provinces."

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities recently passed its own resolution on local-content requirements, but experts say that such retaliatory protectionist measures will do more harm than good, suggesting a more comprehensive plan needs to be formed.

"It seems like there's some defensive actions taking place. What works better is to be more pro-active and put in a better framework, not just fighting every protectionist action taken," Ms. Goldfarb said.

June 17, 2009

Life and Dignity Ceremony

On June 2, 2009, we published a note that was a call for ceremonies to stop the Canada-Colombia FTA. It was initiated by several friends of ours in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, where a group of students has engaged with this struggle and the process of weaving solidarity among the peoples in minga -- a minga of the peoples without owners.

While much of the efforts of civil society groups and organizations opposing this agreement has focused on the parliamentary/institutional arena, and there is no doubt that this is an important focal point in stopping these FTAs, it is equally important to recognize the other ways in which these death projects can be, and often are, confronted.

On June 10, 2009, a criminal from Colombia came to meet with his fellow criminals in Canada. The governments representing no one but the interests of transnationals, the agents of the death project, met amidst smiles, handshakes and what must have been countless conversations behind closed doors. The time taken to address the public was used to repeat and discuss baseless claims aimed at stigmatizing those of us who still believe in the defense of life... all life.

But in 5 places across Colombia, in Sault Ste. Marie, and in the hearts of those of us who journey with friends and companions we may not have even met (yet), another incredibly special encounter was taking place. With coca and tobacco, the condor and the eagle came together, transforming pain into the joining of spirits in common struggle.

We leave you with a message from our friends in Sault Ste. Marie, a report on the ceremony which speaks
for itself.

La Chiva

- -

Hello La Chiva friends,

We had about 35 people attend the ceremony on campus. This may sound like few, but our campus is very tiny, and everyone is gone for the summer, and there was another event going on that day too. So we were quite thrilled with the turnout.

The ceremony was extra special because the woman that was originally scheduled to conduct the ceremony was unable to attend at the last minute.... so a friend of ours conducted the ceremony for us. This friend missed his flight that morning, and we figure this was why.. he was meant to be with us on this day. At the ceremony I spoke about Peru, and the CCFTA and what it would mean if it was ratified. A friend reminded us all, that this is not just a Canada-Colombia problem, and it's not just an indigenous problem... but a world problem. Whatever we do, effects everyone else.

During the sacred fire ceremony we put down tobacco in the fire, and asked the Eagle to take our prayers to the Creator, remembering that in Colombia at that exact moment, they were putting down their coca and asking the Condor to take their prayers to the Creator.... a spiritual minga... our spirits and ancestors joined for a common goal.

After the sacred fire we conducted another ceremony at a historic site on the ShingwaukKinoomage Gamig campus; the site of the residential school. Our posters for the ceremony had a tree with no leaves. At this ceremony we planted three lilac trees, representing Canada, Colombia and the US; the 3 countries that were called to ceremony. It was a community event with many generations in attendance. The water that we had with us at the sacred fire ceremony was used to water the seedlings as they were planted. During the ceremony the people were each given a fabric 'leaf' to put their thoughts of solidarity into. After the trees were planted, people were encouraged to write those thoughts onto their 'leaf'. These leaves were then tied onto string that connected all the trees together.

We now have a lasting, and beautiful, reminder of this ceremony, this struggle, this spiritual minga.

It is also our hope that these trees with their messages of solidarity, generate curiosity and bring greater attention to the work that needs to be done.

After the ceremonies were complete we gathered in the Anishinaabek students lounge and shared a feast.

The local newspaper, the Sault Star was on hand. The caption read: "A.N. digs a hole for one of three lilac trees planted Wednesday on Algoma University grounds, while M.B. 5, walks past one of several symbolic flags tied to a string as part of an International Day of Ceremony held by Fair Trade Algoma. The event coincided with meetings in Canada between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who is promoting a free trade deal between the countries which was signed in the fall, but not yet ratified. Ceremonies, called for by the local fair trade group, were held across Canada, Colombia and the US in solidarity with Colombia's indigenous people."

J, R, S, E, A, & S

Align Center

June 12, 2009


By RECALCA (Colombian Action Network in Response to Free Trade)
Bogotá, June 11, 2009

We send out this alert to the international community, to governments and parliaments around the world, to unions, social movements and human rights organizations to call attention to the dangerous situation we are experiencing in Colombia. The government of Alvaro Uribe has systematically increased its attacks on the country's legitimate institutions and against anyone who questions him or promotes, through democratic and peaceful means, political alternatives to his policies.

The assault on democracy is carried out in the following ways:

· Attacks on the judicial system. Members of the Court have been systematically spied on and slandered, and their decisions disregarded. These abuses required the presence, in Colombia, of a UN Special Rapporteur on Judicial Independence and another UN official to investigate Extrajudicial Executions, a well documented State crime.

· The persecution of social activists. The government accuses them irresponsibly and without providing any evidence, of being members of illegal armed organizations. One tactic, which President Uribe used during his recent visit to Canada, is to threaten to jail individuals with the help of other governments.

· The persecution of prominent opposition leaders in the Colombian Congress such as Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo, Congress Members Piedad Córdoba, Wilson Borja, Gloria Inés Ramírez and Bogotá City Councilman Jaime Caicedo, against whom the Office of the Prosecutor General --an institution controlled directly by the President-- has opened investigations, based on alleged evidence of links to illegal groups. The Justice system is manipulated yet again to persecute serious, respected, and legitimate opposition leaders, and to thwart democracy by criminalizing political opposition.

· The threat of calling a Constitutional Assembly to close Congress if the referendum that will allow the president to seek re-election after 2 consecutive 4-year terms does not pass.

· The persecution of important and well known Indigenous leaders, such as Feliciano Valencia, Aida Quilqué and Daniel Piñacué, against whom arrest warrants have been issued, ignoring and disrespecting the indigenous jurisdiction clearly established in the Colombian Constitution.

· The increase in attacks against and murders of Colombian labor leaders, for which the ILO (International Labor Organization) has again included Colombia on the watchdog list of the Committee on the Application of Standards, while the International Trade Union Confederation has confirmed that more than half of the 76 union leaders murdered in the whole world in 2008 happened in Colombia.

The scandals that surround the Uribe government grow by the day. Prominent examples are the established links between high ranking members of the government and vigilante death squads, and the wire tapping of Court and opposition phones as part of a systematic plan to track their movements. Other examples are the occurrence of extrajudicial executions and the pressure on Congress to get Uribe’s second re-election approved.

Lately the situation has worsened. President Alvaro Uribe has attempted to lay a smokescreen to fool the international community, taking a number of trips abroad and pulling out all the stops to try to get harmful trade treaties ratified. He looks for international support by sacrificing national interests, accepts any type of onerous condition and distracts people's attention away from the true nature of his government, accusing anybody who opposes him of supporting terrorist acts, accusations which persist even though terrorist acts have been roundly condemned not only by the Indigenous and social movements but also by the democratic left, which the government stigmatizes and persecutes.

We call on all governments and people around the world to manifest their solidarity with the Colombian people who have suffered seven years of attacks on their democracy by Alvaro Uribe Velez. The repressive measures taken by the government --intended to close down the democratic process and centralize power in the Presidency and the executive branch as well as in the Police and the Army, with obvious ties to drug trafficking and death squads-- are increasing as the accusations, investigations and illegal and criminal actions of the Government multiply.

The Government of President Uribe is trying to suppress already limited constitutional freedoms, dismantle collective and citizens' rights, persecute and silence any form of democratic opposition while giving away the wealth and sovereignty of the country to obtain the necessary international support to overcome its glaring illegitimacy. Colombian society and democracy are now facing a serious threat that comes from their own government.

We ask the Heads of State and the Parliaments of those countries that are negotiating or in the process of ratification of a Free Trade Agreement with the Colombian Government to stop these agreements that will only increase poverty, displacement, and violence in Colombia and will give President Uribe the support he's looking for to consolidate his authoritarian project.

Red Colombiana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio, Recalca
(Colombian Action Network in Response to Free Trade)

Translation Mingas-FTA / Traducción Mingas-TLC

June 11, 2009

Massacres must not be rewarded: No FTA with Peru

Dear Allies,

Indigenous communities in Peru have been holding peaceful protests since April 9 to condemn new laws that would allow for the rapid industrialization of the Amazon rainforest. These laws were put in place by the Peruvian government to further facilitate its proposed free trade agreements with Canada and the United States.

Over 30,000 Indigenous protesters have blocked roads, rivers and railways to force the repeal of these new laws, which would make way for intensified oil, mining, logging activities and massive agricultural projects, and to demand that they be consulted on all development planned on their land.

But at dawn on Friday, June 5, 600 Peruvian police in helicopters and on foot opened fire on protesters blocking a road near Bagua in the Peruvian Amazon. Conservative estimates indicate that 60 Indigenous and police have been killed. Police are accused of burning bodies then hiding them in the river and of removing the wounded from hospital to hide the real number of casualties.

Should Canada really be signing a free trade agreement with the Peruvian government when this is how they respond to legitimate protests against oil, mining and forestry projects that threaten to displace local and indigenous communities and further despoil Amazonian ecosystems? Many of our elected

Members of Parliament seem to think so.

The Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement gives Canadian resource companies new legal powers to challenge what few Peruvian laws stand in their way, while paying only lip service to labour rights and environmental protection. The House of Commons has already passed Bill C-24, the implementing legislation for the Agreement, without adding even a mention of human rights; it is currently before the Senate.

But the deal can still be stopped!

We need you to write to the Senate immediately and ask them to send the Canada—Peru FTA back to Parliament for reconsideration. The Senate cannot be allowed to rubber stamp this deal, which legitimizes state repression for the sake of boosting the profits of Canada’s oil patch and major mining companies.

By using the form below, your letter will be copied to all the major party leaders so they know Canadians stand in solidarity with the Peruvian Indigenous protesters and oppose the free trade agreement.

Click on this link or copy it into your browser to SEND YOUR LETTER NOW: http://canadians.org/action/2009/11-June-09.html

In solidarity,

The Council of Canadians
Common Frontiers
MiningWatch Canada

June 9, 2009

A victory, a red carpet, and a massacre: the struggle against the FTA agenda must continue

By La Chiva Collective and Pueblos en Camino
June 9, 2009

It’s time again for another installment of our bulletin. In this edition, we update on the stalling of the Canada-Colombia FTA; the Conservative and Liberal parties rolling out the red carpet for Colombia’s President Uribe this week in Canada; continued pressure from indigenous, civil society and labour organizations; and the horrific news coming out of Peru of the latest FTA massacre courtesy of another Canadian ally… occurring 2 days after the Canada-Peru FTA ascended to the Canadian Senate for its stamp of approval. The struggle against the murderous model continues:

The indigenous of the Peruvian Amazon named and exposed the consequences of the FTA and decided to oppose it. They stood on that highway understanding what is at stake for all of us. Because the ‘free trade’ model cannot be defended in any way other than under the veil of secrecy or the use of force, a conscious people paid with their lives.

The CCFTA: frozen but easily thawed

At the end of May, we celebrated as Canada’s minority Conservative government removed from its legislative agenda Bill C-23, enacting legislation for the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA) [1]. In other words, because it would be difficult for the Conservatives to push the controversial deal through parliament before its June 19th recess, the Canada-Colombia FTA is frozen... for now [2] [3].

After facing months of intense pressure from thousands of Canadians and their Colombian and US allies, the Harper Conservatives met ferocious opposition when earlier last month they attempted to push the FTA through Canada’s parliament. The Bloc Quebecois and the NDP led the charge during the parliamentary debate, and several Liberals, whose questions about the deal exposed sharp divisions within the party, complemented their efforts.

On the one hand, there is a faction of the Liberals that is critical of where Harper is leading the country; that group has called for an independent Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) before the CCFTA is even presented to the House of Commons for debate. On the other hand, it is obvious that the minority Conservatives are relying on Liberal support for their survival, a support that is rooted in a deep-seated ideological affinity between the two parties.

Critically, it is the latter faction that dominates the Liberal position in the International Trade Committee (CIIT) proceedings. For example, Liberal trade critic and member of the CIIT Committee, Scott Brison, while calling for an Independent HIRA on his website, personally helped the Conservatives to block a presentation by a Colombian lawyer and human rights activist at the last minute. He voted with the Conservatives to end proceedings early, and she was turned away at the door [4].

This comes as the Liberals and Conservatives have bent over backwards to accommodate a visit to Canada by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

Putting aside the rhetoric, the semantic acrobatics that have characterized Liberal discourse on the CCFTA, the substantive difference between the Liberal Party and their Conservative counterparts remains superficial.

“If [the Liberals] can’t find principles,” writes Justin Podur in an outstanding recent article on the CCFTA, “they might at least recognize the saying that when voters have a choice between a real conservative and a fake conservative, they’ll choose the real thing” [5].

Rolling out the red carpet for Uribe

Putting principles aside, Canada’s real and fake conservatives have shown contempt for Colombian human rights defenders and victims of violence. But that’s not all: they’ve reworked their agenda to accommodate a visit by the highest public representative of the murderous regime, President Uribe himself.

Uribe had been invited to speak at the International Economic Forum of the Americas in Montreal on Wednesday June 10 [6]. Groups and organizations from Quebec have been planning to give him a welcome he will not forget [7].

The same Conservatives who barred British MP George Galloway from Canada [8] for leading a humanitarian convoy in Gaza – claiming he helped Gaza's government, which the Tories label "terrorist" – have no problem rolling out the red carpet for Uribe, President of a regime that routinely assassinates activists and murders citizens. President Uribe will be given two hours... by ‘special invitation’ no less, according to CIIT documents.

This visit must be bittersweet for Uribe and his supporters in Canada. The Colombian government has stated that this is not a state visit but a ‘working visit’ with ‘private meetings’. Surely, if the Conservatives had been successful in pushing through the FTA, things might have been different.

That’s the bitter, but where’s the sweet? With even more scandals arising in Colombia, a trip to Canada must be a welcome escape. Aside from the on-going investigations into his political allies’ links with paramilitary death squads [9], a fraudulent re-election reform process from which the president gained a second term [10], evidence of the systematic practice of carrying out ‘false positives’ [11] (whereby civilians are murdered by the army and later dressed up at guerrilla fighters in order to improve their numbers and those of the president), newer scandals have come to light.

As a recent Washington Post article points out, one scandal involves Colombia’s secret police wire-tapping Supreme Court judges, opposition politicians, activists and journalists under orders from the presidential palace [12]. Jorge Alberto Lagos, a former secret police director, revealed to his interrogators that information obtained by the wire-tapping had been turned over to two of Uribe’s top aides.

Another scandal centres on President Uribe’s sons, Tomás and Jerónimo [13]. It is alleged, and not contradicted by statements by the Uribe boys themselves, that the President’s sons have become very wealthy overnight thanks to the decisions of a mayor and several high-ranking officials in their father’s government. Through a dubious land deal with the transnational Bavaria SabMiller and that land’s later conversion to a duty-free zone, the brothers and their father’s influential allies turned $4 million into $60 million. While corruption and crony business deals are hardly shocking news these days, they are still wrong.

In a recent article in The Nation, journalist Teo Ballvé found that money from the United States under Plan Colombia may have been used to finance narco-paramilitaries [14]. "Plan Colombia is fighting against drugs militarily at the same time it gives money to support palm, which is used by paramilitary mafias to launder money," Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro told The Nation. "The United States is implicitly subsidizing drug traffickers."

Meanwhile attacks on indigenous leaders in Colombia continue. After her husband was brutally murdered by the army late last year, indigenous leader Aida Quilcue is once again the focus of threats [15]. On May 11, her 12 year-old daughter, Mayerli, was held up at gunpoint outside her home in broad daylight. One week later, Robert de Jesús Guacheta, an indigenous Nasa governor from Cauca, in Southwest Colombia, was found murdered [16]. Authorities have not lifted a finger; on the contrary, several indigenous leaders are being hunted down by the Colombian government for their role in peaceful mobilizations, the Social and Communitarian Minga, of late 2008.

Fighting back

As Uribe arrives in Canada, indigenous peoples in Canada and Colombia are planning ceremonies to protest his presence and the FTA he is coming to promote. A call for ceremonies first came out from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, where a group called Fair Trade Algoma decided a different approach to opposing the deal was necessary [17].

That call has been answered across Canada and Colombia. In Colombia, ceremonies by indigenous peoples in at least five regions, from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to the valleys of the Cauca region, will join in for the protection of life and “a meeting of the Condor and the Eagle.”

With Uribe’s arrival imminent, civil society and labour organizations are organizing demonstrations in Montreal and Ottawa on Wednesday, June 10, to send a clear message: Uribe is NOT welcome in Canada [18] [19].

Press coverage of civil society opposition to the CCFTA has continued, especially as gains have become more and more apparent. Alternative media, radio and online, have been exceptional. Surprisingly, the more mainstream press has begun to wake up, as the Toronto Star has come out with a critical editorial [20] [21] [22].

One might expect coverage to increase as public disgust in the prospect of another Harper FTA becomes more pronounced. As a final section for this bulletin, we now turn to the horrendous actions of another Canadian ally, the Peruvian government of Alan Garcia, where the ‘free trade’ model that threatens life itself has been defended with blood and fire.

FTA Massacre in Peru

Just 2 days after Canada’s Bill C-24, implementing legislation for the Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement, moved to the Canadian Senate for a stamp of approval, news out of Peru is of fierce repression and murder enacted upon indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon region in the name of such agreements.

For almost 2 months, indigenous peoples had been protesting the implementation of the FTA between Peru and the United States, a deal that seeks to open up the Amazon rainforest to oil and mineral extraction companies.

In a statement, mobilization participants outlined, “Indigenous peoples value the land as a part of a our system of life, we don't own the land but we belong to it. There will not be a way for the government of Peru to impose its corporate benefiting laws because Indigenous people will defend their territories.”

In stark disregard for Peru’s ratified and signed international obligations and stated commitments (as well as human life), the government of Alan Garcia unleashed brutal repression against protestors, who were fired on by the police, in some cases from helicopters, in what is becoming known as the Bagua massacre of June 5 and 6, 2009.

Estimates range from between 30 and 80 murdered and countless injured by state-sponsored repression. Gruesome photos of the horror are circulating on the Internet and generating widespread condemnation: http://catapa.be/en/north-peru-killings. Perhaps the best reporting has come through alternative media outlets (an article from Indymedia Ireland, for example, has tens of links for further reading and coverage) [23].

This free trade massacre has been swiftly condemned by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (of the Organization of America States) and countless human rights organizations and observers [24].

A series of demonstrations of protest and solidarity with the Amazon Indigenous Peoples of Peru have taken place across North America. Peruvian social organizations are calling for more international observers for a national General Strike on Wednesday, June 10.

Indigenous leaders are being hunted down by the Garcia government, and while tension appear to be easing, the possibility of future attacks remains.

The indigenous of the Peruvian Amazon named and exposed the consequences of the FTA and decided to oppose it. They stood on that highway understanding what is at stake for all of us. Because the ‘free trade’ model cannot be defended in any way other than under the veil of secrecy or the use of force, a conscious people paid with their lives.

Let us stand by them as we oppose this same model from wherever we are.

Send a message to the president of Peru, Alan Garcia:


[1] http://canadacolombiaproject.blogspot.com/2009/05/canada-colombia-fta-removed-from.html

[2] http://www.hour.ca/news/news.aspx?iIDArticle=17471

[3] http://www.harperindex.ca/ViewArticle.cfm?Ref=00224

[4] http://www.mingas.info/node/127

[5] http://www.killingtrain.com/node/701

[6] http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/June2009/09/c3948.html

[7] http://www.pasc.ca/spip.php?article488

[8] http://www.rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/kim-elliott/jason-kenney-bans-george-galloway-canada

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colombian_parapolitics_scandal

[10] http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yidispolitica

[11] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8038399.stm

[12] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/16/AR2009051602301.html

[13] http://canadacolombiaproject.blogspot.com/2009/06/illicit-profits-for-president-uribes.html

[14] http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090615/ballve/single

[15] http://nasaacin.org/solidaridad_maye_aida2009.html

[16] http://www.nasaacin.org/noticias.htm?x=9928

[17] http://canadacolombiaproject.blogspot.com/2009/06/call-for-ceremonies-to-stop-canada.html

[18] http://canadacolombiaproject.blogspot.com/2009/06/asocolom-uribe-is-not-welcome-in-canada.html

[19] http://canadacolombiaproject.blogspot.com/2009/06/uribe-in-montreal-poster.html

[20] http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/639036

[21] http://www.pacificfreepress.com/news/1/4218-gorilla-radio-with-chris-cook-chris-genovali-michael-otuathail-janine-bandcroft-june-1-2009.html

[22] http://www.hour.ca/news/news.aspx?iIDArticle=17471

[23] http://www.indymedia.ie/article/92604

[24] http://www.cidh.org/Comunicados/English/2009/35-09eng.htm

June 7, 2009

Illicit profits for President Uribe’s sons: the role of Colombia’s government

By Jorge Enrique Robledo
Colombian Senator
31 May 2009

Tomás and Jerónimo, the twenty something sons of Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, got rich as a result of the decisions of a mayor and high-ranking officials in their father's government. It's a clear case of favoritism and illegalities committed in their favor. And they got very rich, to the tune of billions of pesos [millions of dollars]: from 2006, a piece of land in Mosquera, a town near Bogotá, of which they own 15%, after small improvements, increased in price from 8.6 billion pesos to 138 billion pesos [from around 4 million dollars to approximately 60 million dollars].

The transnational Bavaria SabMiller sold the piece of land to the president's sons and, according to the deeds, it measured 34 hectares [~ 84 acres], but it turned out that there was a big and rather unusual mistake: the parcel actually measured 53 hectares [~ 131 acres] Therefore, the price per square meter only cost them 13,000 pesos, a very low rate in the Sabana of Bogota area. In addition, the same transnational sold them another 100-hectare [247 acre] parcel, also in the Sabana, in Tocancipá, for only 22 billion pesos [about 11 million dollars]. In this deal they are working with some friends of their father, who are among the richest Colombians. According to the young Uribe brothers, in this case "we didn't invest money to buy into the deal (12%), rather we obtained a stake in it through our promotion of the project itself.”

If the president's sons have done very well with Bavaria SabMiller, the transnational has done even better with the head of state. The government granted the company a special duty-free zone and a legal stability contract for its new factory in Yumbo, near Cali, which cost 175 million dollars. Among other benefits, the duty-free zone reduces the tax on profits from 33 to 15% for 30 years. And the legal stability contract guarantees that for the next 20 years the company will not be subject to measures that may negatively affect their bottom line, which exempts them, for example, from paying the new war tax that will almost certainly be passed in 2010.

In addition to the flagrant unconstitutionality of decree 383/07 that authorized the special duty-free zones --unconstitutional because it goes against Law 1004/05 regarding the formation of duty-free zones-- and in addition to the brazen violations of procedure that allowed the paperwork for the Bavaria SabMiller's special zone to go through, what is supposedly the primary requirement for granting such a concession in the first place is not met: stimulating new investment. The same can be said with respect to the lack of moral and legal justification for the legal stability contract. Because decree 383 and the granting of legal stability both date to February 2007 and four years earlier, in Bavaria's 2003 Annual Report, the company announced the "beginning of construction of the Valle brewery which will replace the one in Cali, Colombia, and which, with a built in capacity that will double the Cali plant, will cover territories of high consumption that had been supplied by factories that ended their operations as they followed a restructuring process to maximize industrial proficiency". It's clear, therefore, that the transnational based their investment decisions on the needs of the company and did so before the special government dispensations were granted, without any reason of State. Just for 2008 these dispensations and a lower tax on profits added up to more than 11.7 billion pesos [over 5.5 million dollars].

The mayor of Mosquera, Alvaro Rozo, increased the value of the land owned by President Uribe's sons when he changed the limit for building on the second level from 50 to 75%. He also increased its value when he adopted a Parceling Plan that in effect converted the land use permit from rural to urban and allowed it to be divided up for industrial purposes. The Parceling Plan violated Law 388 from 1997 as well, which stipulates the payment of value added tax for pieces of land that increase in value because of decisions made by government officials.

Shortly thereafter, president Uribe's sons sold a portion of the increased-value land at a very low price to Inversiones ALC, a company that was founded by the mayor of Mosquera and that is now under the names of the mayor's sons and brothers. These parcels were sold for only 19,000 pesos [less than 10 dollars] per square meter. Two days later they sold two adjacent pieces of property (of similar origins) to different buyers, but at 53,000 per square meter. Clearly the attorney general's office should investigate this case, because it's obvious that both sides may have entered into mutually beneficial illegal transactions.

With regard to the same piece of land, there's a published picture of Tomás Uribe with the minister of Roads and Transportation at a meeting in which construction of the highway from Madrid to Mosquera, which passes through the property in question, was the subject of discussion. There's another photo showing Tomás himself at the official launching of mayor Alvaro Rozo's campaign for a Senate seat. As we've seen, there are many reasons why Tomás would want to support Rozo, now the ex-mayor of Mosquera.

The other big increase in value of the sons' property stems from the government's authorization to develop the Western Duty-Free Zone (Zona Franca de Occidente) on the land, a decision that increased its value many times over because the big companies that will establish themselves there, among other dispensations, instead of paying a 33% tax on profits, will only pay 15%. Authorization was granted, as a result of undue preferences and illegalities, by the Inter-sectorial Committee of Duty-Free Zones (Comité Intersectorial de Zonas Francas), in which the decisions are made by the Commerce and Treasury ministers as well as other high officials in Uribe's government.

The ministers have stated that they didn't know who owned the land in the Western Duty-Free Zone and that they weren't required to know it either. Therefore, they say, they didn't remove themselves from the decision making process that benefitted the sons of their boss, president Uribe, as the law required them to. It's unlikely that they were unaware, among other reasons, because on December 7, 2007 the newspaper El Espectador, which ranks second in circulation in Colombia, published an article written by a respected analyst who exposed the fact that Tomás and Jerónimo Uribe were in on this deal. And article 209 of the Constitution, Decree 2685 from 1999 and Resolution 001 of the Inter-sectorial Commission on Duty-Free Zones, where the ministers have jurisdiction, requires them to know who the owners of the property were. Or, as a writer friendly to the government put it, if the property had been owned by a well know drug-trafficker, would they have also approved the duty-free zone?

In violation of the Constitution and the law, the head of the Colombian revenue service refused to provide all of the public documents required by the Senate investigation. He has also not responded to the question of whether the sons of the president paid the corresponding taxes on the huge profits obtained in this deal through the end of 2008. This, despite the fact that they have acknowledged an increase in value of the investment in Mosquera of more than 100 times and profits of 10,000%. The acknowledgement was made in a public document that appears to have been written up to avoid paying taxes.

President Alvaro Uribe, also in violation of the law, did not answer a request formulated by this senator in which I asked him: did you know that your sons participated in the business deal concerning the Western Duty-Free Zone? If you did know, which is what they have stated, why didn't you inform the ministers and other subordinate officials of yours, so that they could declare a conflict of interest as is stipulated by the law and not approve the deal?

It's also outrageous that Bavaria Sab/Miller and other large companies granted Residuos Ecoeficiencia, another company in which president Uribe's sons hold an interest, the concession to dispose of industrial waste. The removal and disposal of this waste was providing a livelihood to the so-called "recyclers", one of the poorest social groups in the country. Expressing their painful frustration in the Senate, Ana Isabel Martínez, president of one of the displaced associations working in disposal, said: "They're like a plague that's taking this trash [business] away from the poor".

In the inherent immorality of a government that's determined to change the Constitution for the second time to allow Alvaro Uribe to run for a third term, something that could lead to his perpetual reelection, it's not surprising that they brandish the shameless notion that the president's sons can engage in business dealings that are normally illegal, revealing a total lack of understanding of the most basic ethical or moral standards of society and, on top of this, they try to hide the illegalities that have occurred.

Those who are not fooled by the machinations of a very skilled Alvaro Uribe will understand that, among other terrible things, it will be business dealings like those of the president's sons that will be ‘reelected.’

Mingas-FTA Translation / Traducción Mingas-TLC

June 6, 2009

ASOCOLOM: Uribe is NOT welcome in Canada

PRESS RELEASE – JUNE 10, 2009, Montreal -Canada.

FROM: Colombia Action and Solidarity Network (ASOCOLOM)

As Colombians living in Canada, we hereby express our indignation at the presence in Canada of the current President of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who has been invited by the government of Canada. We consider this an affront to the defense and protection of Universal Human Rights, given that the majority of the Colombians that live in Canada had to forcibly flee Colombia in the recent past, displaced from our country as victims of violence, poverty and political persecution carried out by the Uribe government.

In view of this, we consider that the Canadian people, in recognition of its democratic tradition, especially in regards to the protection of human rights, cannot condone the presence of a president such as Mr. Uribe, who is directly responsible for crimes against humanity in Colombia, as follows:

1. For his direct link to the persecution and harassment of judicial due process in order to prevent the investigation and prosecution of his family members, and political supporters (Deputies and Senators) of his past presidential and re-election campaigns for their roles in the establishment, involvement and support of paramilitary groups and their complicity in crimes against humanity in Colombia. In view of this, Mr. Augusto Ibañez, the President of Colombia’s Supreme Court recently requested that the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for Judicial Independence come to Colombia to act as a witness and guarantor of the independence of the judicial process in these legal proceedings;

2. For his involvement in maintaining and protecting his political allies and personal friends in their offical state capacities and government roles, while having full knowledge of their involvement in aiding and abetting crimes committed by paramilitary groups. One example is Jorge Noguera, ex-director of the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), currently in prison and accused of being an accomplice to paramilitary groups, in the assassinations of trade union, civil society and leftist leaders. Uribe appointed Noguera as Ambassador to Italy, and was investigated for activities in that position by Colombia’s Attorney General. A similar example is Uribe’s political party colleague, personal friend, the ex-governor of Sucre Department, Mr. Salvador Arana, who was identified in the presence of Uribe by Eudaldo Diaz, mayor of El Roble Municipality, just before he was assassinated. A few days later, Uribe rewarded Arana by appointing him as Ambassador to Chile. Subsequently, following his arrest by Interpol, Arana was convicted for assassination, and aiding and abetting crimes by paramilitary groups, such as the Chengue Massacre;

3. For his direct family ties, through his cousin Mario Uribe and brother Santiago Uribe, in the planning of assassinations committed by paramilitary groups, such as the Aro Massacre in Antioquia Department. The material author and principal witness of this massacre, Enrique Villalba, was recently killed in Colombia. This also happened in the case of Mario Uribe, whose involvement in land robbery as its frontman was carried out through murders. These investigations are currently being brought to the National Attorney General, the highest level of judicial investigation;

4. For his direct responsibility as Commander in Chief of the Colombian Armed Forces in judicially-proven criminal offences, committed by high-level military officers, such as aiding and abetting of massacres and systematic civilian assassinations, such as the so-called “false positives” scandal;

5. For his direct responsibility in permitting the impunity, in Colombia, of paramilitary leaders for the crimes against humanity committed by them, by prioritizing their extradition to the USA for narco-trafficking , rather than standing trial in Colombia. (Investigative journalists have argued that Uribe has done this in order to avoid being implicated in their crimes, should they be brought to trial in Colombia);

6. For assuming a policy of indifference in the face of attacks by paramilitary groups that have refused to demobilize and that, according to their communiqués, now have the intention to take control of Colombia through a campaign of terror;

7. For the direct link of the Presidential Palace in ordering the wiretapping of telephone conversations between the Administrative Department of Security and judges of the Supreme Court of Justice, opposition politicians, trade unionists, civil society leaders and journalists, in order to continue and facilitate ongoing political persecution; and

8. For his direct responsibility in maintaining and pursuing a policy of war, wrongly called “democratic security”, directed primarily at peasant farmers, Afro-Colombian communities and indigenous peoples, which is incrementally adding to Colombia’s grave humanitarian crisis and conditions of absolute misery, as has been corroborated by recent reports of Amnesty International, the International Federation of Human Rights, the Office of the High Commission of Human Rights, and the Organization of American States.

In view of all of the above, we ask the community for the creation of a committee to verify the state of human rights in Colombia, comprised of members of Canadian and Colombian civil society, the trade union movement, politicians and well-known individuals before the end of 2009.

For the respect of human rights and the dignity of the Colombian people, we renounce President Uribe’s presence in Canada.

June 4, 2009

Justin Podur on the CCFTA: a Q&A

Below is one of the most comprehensive, readable and compelling analyses of the Canada-Colombia FTA debate so far. This piece should be required reading for those seeking to understand why Canada is pursuing an FTA with Colombia


The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Questions and Answers
By Justin Podur, June 3, 2009

[This piece was originally published on Justin's blog: http://www.killingtrain.com/node/701]

The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA) was withdrawn from the table while being debated for its second reading in Canadian Parliament on May 27, 2009. Stalled for now, the CCFTA will certainly be back: it has not been defeated, and its proponents (the Conservatives and some of the Liberals) await an opportunity to bring it back.

The following set of questions and answers are intended to help those in Canada trying to stop the CCFTA (or see to it that it stays down).

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the CCFTA represents "modern economics". Is this true?

Stephen Harper's government very nearly fell last year when it proposed a budget of tax and spending cuts at a time of recession. His claim to understand "modern economics" should be met with caution. The economic implications of the CCFTA, as outlined by Colombian Senator Jorge Robledo and, in Canada, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC), are devastating for Colombians.

"Free trade" is based on the removal of tariffs. In development economics, tariffs are understood as a tool for less developed economies to use to protect infant industries, especially in manufacturing. Free trade agreements that remove tariffs favor the more developed economy which can produce manufactured goods more cheaply due to more intense capitalization. No country has ever developed advanced manufacturing without tariffs (see development economist Ha-Joon Chang's "Bad Samaritans" and "Kicking Away the Ladder"): Colombia's relatively small manufacturing industry needs them.

To quote a friend of Ha-Joon Chang's, Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz (in The National Interest, May/June 2008):

"standard economic theory does not say that everyone will be better-off as a result of trade liberalization, only that the winners could compensate the losers. They could take a portion of their gains, give it to the losers and everyone could be better-off. But, of course, the winners, which in much of America are the very well-off, haven't compensated the losers; indeed, some have been arguing that to compete in the new world of globalization requires cutbacks in government spending, including programs for the poor. The losers then lose doubly.

"These results of traditional economic theory are based on assumptions like perfect information, perfect-risk markets, perfect competition and no innovation. But, of course, we do not live in such a perfect world. Modern economic theory has shown that in the imperfect world in which we live, trade liberalization can actually make everyone worse off."

The agricultural implications for Colombia are worse. 12 million Colombians (of 44 million total) live in the countryside. The agricultural sector represents 11.4% of Colombia's GDP and 22% of employment, twice the level for manufacturing. According to the CCIC report, the CCFTA will see Canadian exports doing harm to Colombia's food security - Colombia needs duties to protect staples (it will lose its ability to protect wheat, peas, lentils, barley, beef, beans). Its pork industry will be destroyed, to the tune of 90,000 jobs. It will lose 32% of wheat production, with a 44% of employment loss in the sector. The agreement is skewed in Canada's favour. Canada gets to keep tariffs on Colombian sugar for longer (17 years compared to Colombia's 12 year phaseout).

Notice that Canada seems to have a comparative advantage in every crop (except coffee and illicit crops). Although the rich countries talk about free trade and market forces, they subsidize their agriculture so that the competition is not fair (and not free market).

The CCFTA is part of the physical and infrastructural re-ordering of Colombia and Canada, all to provide energy for US consumers and an alternative to Venezuelan oil. Canada's method is to devastate Northern Alberta through tar sands development, while Colombia's is to use vast tracts of land for the production of palm oil and sugar cane for "agro-fuels". Some of this palm oil is destined for Canada, and regulations for its sale fall under the CCFTA, and the lands it is grown on were the ancestral territories of indiegenous people, Afro-Colombians, and peasants, who had been engaged in subsistence (and often sustainable) agriculture. These peasants were displaced from their lands through violence, the results of which are going to be locked in by the CCFTA.

What Canadian economic interests want the CCFTA?

Canada's mining and energy sectors, known in many parts of the world, often for abuses they commit there, stand to benefit from the CCFTA as they have from changes to Colombia's laws in the past. Like other "free trade" agreements, the CCFTA is less about free trade than it is about investor rights, specifically the right of foreign investors to preferential treatment in the domestic economy.

Quoting from Stiglitz again (The National Interest May/June 2008):

"The so-called free-trade agreements being pushed by the Bush administration are, of course, not freetrade agreements at all. If they were, they would be a few pages long-with each party agreeing to eliminate its tariffs, nontariff barriers and subsidies. In fact, they go on for hundreds of pages. They are managed-trade agreements-typically managed for the special interests in the advanced industrial countries (especially those that make large campaign contributions, like the drug industry). The United States keeps its agricultural subsidies, and developing countries are not allowed to impose countervailing duties. And the agreements typically go well beyond trade, including investment agreements and intellectual-property provisions."

Canadian investment in Colombia is $3 billion today, and will go to $5 billion in the next 2 years, mostly in mining and energy. Oil & gas companies include Nexen, Enbridge, and Petrominerales. Enbridge owns ¼ of the OCENSA pipeline (800km, guarded by 1400 soldiers). Ocensa Consortium hired Defence Systems Colombia, which worked with the Colombian army in the region (see Asad Ismi, Profiting from Repression, online report 2000). Coalcorp explores and has ports and railways in Cesar, Santander, and La Guajira. Mining companies include B2Gold from Vancouver, and Toronto's Colombia Goldfields.

As Colombian mining union activist Francisco Ramirez documents in his book, "The Profits of Extermination" (Common Courage 2005), Canadian mining has a long and scandalous history in Colombia. For example, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI, an organization representing over 100 top Canadian financial, mining and energy companies) helped create Colombia's mining, petroleum, and environmental legislation. The mining companies that support CIDA-CERI benefit from the laws. Some of the changes to Colombia's 2002 Mining Code: In Article 7, "excluded" areas become "restricted" areas (national parks, national reserves, sanctuaries). In Article 99, environmental agencies lose their power to revise and challenge mining plans.

In Article 29, "first come first serve" - specifically removes the small miners' claims to some of the mines. The miners, often artesanal miners, were the first to work the mines, but speculators who filed claims through confusing mechanisms through their access to the state or to lawyers, were able to claim the small miners' mines. Most chilling of all was Article 128, "Program of Economic Substitution", which put in place programs to help the displaced, before there were people displaced. In the Colombian context, this amounted to an announcement of plans for displacing people.

Other changes: The state mining agency, Mineralco SA, was liquidated. The term for concessions held by foreign firms went from 25 to 90 years. The royalty tax went from from 10-15% or more to less than 4%, meaning that the Colombian state (and thus its public) gets virtually no benefit from allowing the devastation of its lands through mining.. Securitization, or institutionalized gambling, was introduced in the mining sector (perhaps this is "modern economics"). The state role in environmental assessment was removed in favor of "3rd party" (private) investment.

After these changes, Canadian companies got 73% of new exploration contracts.

The CCFTA plays a role in energy planning for the needs of the US in future. If Harper's vision is of Canada as an "energy superpower", to be accomplished through the destruction of northern Alberta by tar sands development, the CCFTA envisions Colombia becoming a palm oil superpower, with massive plantations of foreign-controlled palm, growing biofuels under dismal conditions for workers, food security, and biodiversity.

Is Colombian trade so centrally important to Canada?

No. Colombia is Canada's fifth trading partner in Latin America, after Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela. As harmful as the economic aspect of the CCFTA will be to Colombia, it is incremental damage to an economy already devastated from nearly two decades of such policies.

The real role of the agreement is political, specifically to "launder" the idea of an FTA with Colombia for the US. Negotiations for the CCFTA were launched at the height of the "para-politica" scandal (July 2007, see my "Harper-Uribe Handshake" http://www.zmag.org/zspace/commentaries/3177) when Harper went to see Uribe. That scandal implicated politicians from Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez's party, who signed pacts with paramilitaries to "cleanse" regions by killing people. Since 2007, Uribe's government has been racked by several other scandals, including the "false positives" scandal in which Colombia's military planted evidence (and conducted crimes) in order to present progress against "terrorism". The latest scandal was a "wire-tapping scandal" involving Colombia's intelligence agency, DAS, which resulted in the firing of dozens of agents (see Juan Forero's article in Washington Post May 17/09, "Top Aides Suspected in Police Case").

The Toronto Star responded to concerns about Colombia's awful human rights record by asking (editorial, May 24/09): "What more can Canada credibly expect the Uribe government to do to improve Colombia's human rights record?"

If this question isn't mere rhetoric, it has a substantive answer, amply documented. Uribe's government could follow the proposals of the human rights defenders of Colombia, whom it instead stigmatizes and threatens.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group (May 25/09) recommends that the international community condition "international aid to the armed forces on full respect for human rights". Trade should be similarly conditioned. The ICG report finds that the Colombian conflict is "evolving, not ending". The report concludes:

"New illegal armed groups - the NIAGs - have stepped up intimidation and violence against civilians; the government's early warning system to prevent HR violations is often useless; and the sluggish justice system is an ineffective deterrent for perpetrators of human rights abuses and those who send intimidating messages and death threats. Despite some recent measures in reaction to the mounting extrajudicial execution scandal, the security forces have a long way to go regarding accountability, professionalism and full commitment to human rights...an absolute precondition is an end to the stigmatisation by high government officials of human rights groups as linked to guerrillas."

The Harper government points to "improvements" in the Colombian regime's record, but this is the same intelligence-insulting approach they take to the climate. Human rights standards, like scientific standards, should be set: state-sanctioned murder, massacre, and displacement are unacceptable, even if the rates of these crimes are decreasing over some selected period.

The Toronto Star editorial also asks: "And is the deal structured in a way that will cause ordinary Colombians to benefit, along with the ruling political class, their business partners and foreign investors?"

The answer is no. See the economic analysis above, and note that labor and the environment are "side agreements" in the deal. There are no trade sanctions for violating labor or environmental rules. The main text of the CCFTA provides binding arbitration for disputes (in which Canadian companies routinely defeat the Colombian government,, as has occurred with CityTV and with mining companies), but violations of the side agreements (such as the murder of unionists) is to be dealt with through fines. The NDP trade policy critic Tony Martin called this:

'"the Kill a Trade Unionist- Pay a Fine' provision. Under the provision, when a trade unionist is killed in Colombia , the government would simply have to pay into a development fund, capped at $15 million per year. This sort of flagrant disrespect for the lives of union workers is beyond comprehension."

Is there any hope to stop an agreement the Conservative government is committed to and that the Liberal opposition supports?

While the progressive parties (NDP and Bloc Quebecois) are opposed, the Conservative and Liberal parties are supportive of the agreement. While there is little hope for progress on any front so long as the Conservatives are in power, the Liberal party is looking for issues to differentiate itself from the Conservatives, an election may be coming up soon in which the Liberals try to replace the Conservatives, and Obama's administration in the US, who the Liberals may want to associate with, has been reluctant to enter into an FTA with Colombia. If Liberals can be turned, the agreement will fall.

Why would Liberals not support the CCFTA? Isn't free trade a liberal policy?

If Liberals are motivated by "liberal" principles - of human rights, free expression and assembly, and equal economic opportunity for all - then they should reject the CCFTA. The Colombian regime violates human rights systematically, and for reasons related to free trade agreements. The CCIC Report, "Making a Bad Situation Worse", reports that 46 Colombian unionists were killed in 2008, and 39 in 2007. These unionists were assassinated by paramilitaries that are organized, trained, and run by the military and have been found to work directly for politicians to "cleanse" territories of indigenous and peasant populations and worker's unions. These are not speculative accusations or claims. The evidence for them has been documented by human rights organizations for decades, but in recent years it has also come out in courts of law, the Colombian media, and the international media.

The Liberals latest position has been to ask for a full human rights review before voting on the agreement. This has stalled the agreement, perhaps until after an election, especially if an election is coming soon. Colombia's President, Alvaro Uribe Velez, who bears important responsibility for the human rights violations in Colombia, is visiting Canada in June, probably to try to resurrect the agreement.

The Conservatives, who are in power, have demonstrated a public contempt for human rights - indeed, their politics is partly based on this contempt. Canadians against the CCFTA hardly even bothered to write to the Conservatives, recognizing that the real power, and the possibility of exercising it, was in the hands of the Liberals. This lead to the strange situation during the Parliamentary debate (these debates are open to the public and, in this case, make interesting reading*) when the NDP and Bloc were detailing reasons for opposing the CCFTA, citing hundreds of letters received to constituency offices, and the Conservatives said they hadn't received any such letters. The anti-CCFTA campaigners didn't write to Conservatives because there was little chance of appealing to the democratic or human rights principles of such a gang.

The Liberals, by contrast, have a choice, and have options. If they can't find principles, they might at least recognize the saying that when voters have a choice between a real conservative and a fake conservative, they'll choose the real thing.

* My favourite moment was actually not the on-point remarks of the NDP and BQ critics of the CCFTA, but when a Liberal MP said that they couldn't dismiss the agreement because they actually had a chance of forming the government. The BQ politician replied by wondering why one's principles should change simply because one has a chance at power.

Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer and member of the Pueblos en Camino Collective (

June 2, 2009

Call for ceremonies to stop the Canada-Colombia FTA

Hello Friends,

The movement in opposition to the Canada-Colombia FTA has been growing across Canada, Colombia and the United States. The pressure to halt the legislation in Canadian parliament has served to divide opinions within the Liberal Party and, for the time being, remove this debate from the parliamentary agenda.

While we celebrate this success we do not do so in silence or complacency. We are initiating a call to groups across the continents to join us in a day of ceremony on June 10. We are calling on other elders, pipe carriers, healers, and spiritual leaders throughout the continent to hold ceremonies where ever you are on June 10th so that all our ancestral wisdom can be put together to call on the spirits to help and guide us from a world of owners without peoples, towards a world of peoples without owners. All people concerned with life and with dignity are invited to gather in ceremony, in solidarity to recognize the pride and courage of Indigenous peoples in Colombia. We will take this day to honour the efforts that have been undertaken across the world and to continue the movement against a free trade model that is killing Mother Earth.

On June 10, Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe will be greeted in Montreal and Ottawa. His intention is to ratify a free trade agreement with the government of Canada. The free trade model has meant death and impoverishment for Colombian people under a regime of terror for the benefit of transnational corporations. This model is one that promotes death and destruction. Join us as we say NO to this model and YES to life and dignity. Let this day be the beginning of a coming together to stop the Uribe Harper regimes as mistaken and blinded people who represent the greed that is bringing life to an end.

On June 10 at noon, we will be holding a sacred fire ceremony for this purpose at the Algoma University Arbour in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. We encourage other peoples to carry out ceremonies throughout Canada, the United States and Colombia on this day so that the Condor and the Eagle can be joined together.

Chi miigwech,
Fair Trade Algoma,
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario