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

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