I spent a good part of the other week watching the performances of Liberals and Conservatives in the Canadian House of Commons as they debated Bill C-23, implementing legislation of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA). With a looming election, one might have expected some attempt to meaningfully distinguish the parties from one another, even on an issue as contentious as supporting a regime engaged in genocide against its own people.
What I saw was Liberals and Conservatives joining forces to defend the regime in Colombia against its critics within the NDP and Bloc Quebecois, knowing that with passage of the CCFTA in Canada, Colombia’s other stalled FTAs with the United States, Norway and other countries would come under pressure to be passed as well. The bill, once removed from the government’s agenda in the spring because of widespread public opposition, returned as the top priority of the Harper government when Parliament resumed in the fall session in September.
As the debate dragged on, the government downgraded the bill’s priority, resulting in a short but uneasy calm for those of us fighting this legislation. Some of the most passionate speeches in support of the Uribe regime came from the Conservative government, as one would expect. It’s their bill. But, on the whole, the Liberal performance was not much different.
Two Liberal MPs, in particular, Bob Rae and Scott Brison, showed themselves to be true cheerleaders of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez and the 'free trade' dogma. Both are members of the International Trade Committee and recently returned from a four-day trip to Colombia at the end of August.
The important thing is not so much their visit, which appears to have been heavily orchestrated by those who typically orchestrate such things, but their reaction in the House and ignorance of what was going on around them. Either they are incredibly naïve, or they willingly overlook the facts on the ground. I think the latter to be much more plausible; their staff must read the Colombian papers, or at least the countless letters sent to Liberal MPs over the past several months.
In any case, the points below are a few things Liberal and Conservative MPs in Canada should know about, if they are doing as much of their homework as they say they are. Canadians should know this, too.
Another Massacre Against the Awá
Mr. Speaker, this debate should not be about ideology, it should be about people: the people of Colombia whose lives have been ripped apart and turned upside down by civil war and narcopolitics. – Liberal MP Scott Brison’s speech from the House floor
In the early morning of 26 August, armed men in camouflage broke into a home in El Rosario, Nariño, shooting and killing 11 indigenous Awá, including four children and three adolescents. A few days earlier, Gonzalo Rodríguez was murdered; his wife was among those murdered on the 26th.
Conservatives and Liberals have often quoted Human Rights Watch, so here is what José Miguel Vivanco, HRW's Americas Director, had to say about it: “Initial reports suggest that members of the [Colombian] Army may have massacred these people, with the purpose of eliminating and intimidating witnesses of atrocities.”
The Awá were also attacked this past February by the FARC, who later admitted to carrying out the massacre of 11 people, while the Awa reported the murder of 38. The response from the Colombian government since then has not been to provide justice but to continue with attacks of its own.
As the Communications Network of the indigenous of Northern Cauca highlighted in an excellent analysis of the February massacre, the militarization and attacks on the Awa in Nariño have everything to do with megaprojects planned for the region, one where multinationals see resources for export and not the people who live there. Massive infrastructure projects, like the IRSA and national projects, constitute the open veins through with the continued pillage of Latin America through 'free trade' is intended to flow.
The ‘Three-Letter Cartel’: Recent Revelations about Colombia’s Secret Police
Colombia has made real economic, social and security progress in recent years, but it is a fragile progress, under the constant threat of FARC terrorists, drug gangsters and hostile attacks from the Chavez regime in Venezuela. – Scott Brison’s speech from the House floor
On September 6, Colombian television networks broadcast an interview with Rafael García, a former Information Director of the Colombian secret service, best known by its Spanish acronym, DAS. It has more recently become known by what its own insiders have called it, the ‘three-letter cartel.’
Mr. García, currently in hiding abroad, revealed that the DAS has been directly involved in the trafficking of narcotics. In his own words (my translation):
[Former DAS Director] Jorge Noguera travelled to Mexico as part of his job as DAS Director. In reality, this trip (which was official and paid for by the Colombian government) was intended to establish alliances with the narco-trafficking organization of the Beltrán Leiva brothers. He did it, which meant that speed boats filled with drugs would be received in Mexico by that organization, which in turn was responsible for transporting the drugs to the states of the East Coast of the US.
Jorge Noguera, DAS Director from Uribe’s inauguration in 2002 until October 2005, is currently being investigated for numerous crimes, including murder. He is accused of passing ‘intelligence’ on trade unionists and academics to paramilitaries, who later murdered these people. When the paramilitary-DAS scandal broke in October 2005, Uribe shipped Noguera off to Italy as Colombian Consul in Milan, like a delicate piece of dirty laundry.
The DAS has also been under major criticism for illegally spying on members of the Supreme Court, human rights activists and political opponents of Uribe. García’s testimony also confirms previous reports that a DAS-paramilitary alliance was involved in a plot against the government of Venezuela.
As a recent report in the New York Times notes, over the last 5 decades, Colombian presidents have empowered the DAS to work under the sole direction of the president, who appoints all high-level officials at the agency. Mr. Uribe is thus not only aware of but also directly responsible for their actions, as they report to him alone.
Such is this reality that Mr. Uribe has reacted by announcing that he will suddenly dissolve the DAS after over 5 decades of existence and replace it with a new agency. In accordance with the style of Uribe, this unprecedented measure is intended to cover-up the president's role in crimes for which he will one day be judged.
I asked Colombian opposition Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo what he thought of the DAS scandal. He responded with the obvious question, “well, what would have been the reaction in Canada if [CSIS] had been dismantled over a scandal that implicated Harper in similar crimes?”
The above revelations make Brison's comments all the more peculiar. Is he really that ignorant of events that took place in Colombia around the same time has his visit?
Baseless Lies become Threats for Export
Watching the debates on the House floor, I was astounded as many Liberal and Conservative members alike demanding that members opposed to Bill C-23, such as NDP MP Peter Julian, apologize for presenting information on the connections between Mr. Uribe and paramilitary death squads and drug lords in Colombia.
That’s right, they demanded an apology.
When Uribe came to Canada with baseless claims that people in Canada working against the CCFTA were 'foreign ambassadors' of the FARC guerrilla, classified by Canada as a terrorist organization, proponents of the CCFTA, including the Canadian Prime Minister, said nothing apart from that the deal had to be passed.
The FARC-Canada allegations came from a 'news' story broadcast by Colombian network RCN. The mainstream press in Colombia frequently uses these tactics to single out individuals opposed to the regime, people who are then persecuted and in some cases murdered by legal or illegal armed groups.
That same story was irresponsibly re-published in the Canadian press.
Sure enough, the allegations were revealed to be completely false, as those named as FARC’s 'foreign ambassadors' supposedly working with 'left political parties' and 'human rights organizations' in Canada had never left Colombia. The lies of the regime also singled out Vancouver, Quebec and Toronto as hosting the 'offices' of the FARC in Canada. Those places are also where there has been much peaceful mobilization and activity against FTA.
Discrediting opposition with baseless lies is Uribe's calling card, and the Lib-servative alliance bent on passing the FTA did nothing to stand up for Canadians engaged in an honest debate on an issue that matters to them. There were no demands for an apology there.
Is it acceptable that a foreign president up to his ears in scandals for direct links between his secret service and narco-paramilitaries and the murder of innocent people is able to come to Canada and call citizens 'terrorists' without a shred of proof?
Canada Turns a Blind Eye
Oh, and there is also the so-called 'false positives' issue, the Uribe's bribery of Congressmembers to have the constitution amended so he could run again (the first time, that's his current mandate!), and the scandal surrounding the use of the Red Cross emblem in the 'rescue' of former FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt, a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
But the ignorance of the above points in the House of Parliament is driven by an ideological fervour for the advancement of neoliberalism in Colombia, Canada and around the globe. Massacre, corruption, drug-trafficking and the silencing of opponents is what is being supported by the Canadian government (and the Liberal Party that props it up) as long as it ignores the realities lived by people in Canada and Colombia alike.
Let's stop pretending that Colombia needs an FTA to resolve its problems. Of this there is not a single proof. Let’s stop pretending Canadian multinationals somehow do not also benefit from the forced displacement of millions of Colombians through violence and terror. Let's also stop pretending that Colombia's problems are Colombia's alone. Let's stop assuming that this is just about human rights violations in Colombia. Something is broken in Canada!
With a looming election, now is the time for the Liberal Party to step up to its own rhetoric. I hope the Liberal Caucus in particular is capable of seeing past the lies and misinformation of the Colombian government and those interests that see only resources and not the wellbeing people. So far, it hasn't.
I hope they come to realize the ignorance of their Trade Critic and resist his whip the next time Bill C-23 comes into the house for debate. If the likes of Brison and Rae are incapable of even reading the news in Colombia, what authority do they have to defend the regime as they do, to make the decisions they do?
I trust that there are several Liberal MPs who are strongly unnerved by the direction of the party on this and many other issues as their party has shifted further to the right. I hope they will speak out.
The people have owners, and an FTA means we’ll have a hard time doing anything about that if we ever decide we want to act collectively. The pressure must be kept up. In opposing the CCFTA, we as Canadians have nothing to gain but a bit of our own dignity and the knowledge that we did not stand by in silence while the Canadian government once again aligned itself with murderers and sold us out to thieves.
Where will you stand?