By Berta Joubert-Ceci
Published Apr 17, 2011 9:11 PM
The U.S. government’s façade that it is a champion of democracy and respectful of other countries’ sovereignty has once again been torn away by Washington’s recent treatment of two distinct governments in two Latin American countries: Colombia and Ecuador.
On April 6 President Barack Obama, praising Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, reached a deal to push through the anti-worker Free Trade Agreement between the two countries. The pact has been stalled due to Colombia’s horrible record of crimes against unionists.
A day earlier, the U.S. State Department refused to apologize or even explain a letter attacking Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa written by the U.S. ambassador in that country and exposed through Wikileaks.
FTA with Colombia attacks working people
Reversing his previous position demanding union rights in Colombia before accepting FTA approval, President Obama issued the “Action Plan Related to Labor Rights” on April 6. According to the press release, this FTA “will expand U.S. goods exports alone by more than $1.1 billion and give key U.S. goods and services duty-free access in sectors from manufacturing to agriculture. It will increase U.S. GDP by $2.5 billion and support thousands of additional U.S. jobs.” (www.whitehouse.gov)
The website includes a fact sheet and the steps that the Colombian government will supposedly take to ensure the safety of unionized workers. It establishes quick deadlines for many tasks geared to protect workers and prosecute crimes, which should be finished by this summer. It sounds good, but has no provision for enforcement.
The Colombian Unitary Confederation of Workers and the Colombian Confederation of Workers issued a joint declaration opposing the deal based on the lack of enforcement and the complete disregard of the unions’ involvement. The two union groups consider the crimes that the U.S.-allied state has committed against its people too immense and horrific to quickly pass a deal without addressing them in a serious way.
The declaration reads in part: “It is a free trade agreement that will have few impacts in the generation of new productive activities and services in Colombia, and on the other hand, puts at risk of destruction a considerable number of companies. In terms of employment, the FTA will not generate new jobs, because those generated in some sectors will be lost in others.
“It’s a free trade agreement with a country that has been and continues to suffer from a great humanitarian tragedy, which has meant the death of hundreds of thousands of people, the disappearance of more than 40,000, the displacement of about 4 million and the usurpation of more than 12 million acres of productive land.
“Colombia has suffered the most serious anti-union violence occurring throughout the world; from 1986 to the present day, 2,861 trade unionists have been killed and more than 11,000 acts of violence against trade unionists have been committed. The previous year, 52 unionists were killed, during this year four, and 20 during the government of President Santos.
“We are convinced that the action plan agreed between Presidents Obama and Santos will not contribute to substantially improve this picture of systematic violations of fundamental human rights. Promises are insufficient. ... What is required are concrete, durable and verifiable facts.”
In the U.S., the United Steelworkers, the Teamsters and the Service Employees unions have issued statements opposing the trade plan and supporting their Colombian sisters and brothers.
Who is Santos?
Since the current president of Colombia has been portrayed as a “democratic,” “just” and “peaceful” person, especially compared with his paramilitary predecessor Alvaro Uribe, it is important to set the record straight.
First and foremost we should point out that Santos, a graduate of U.S. and British universities and a member of the Colombian oligarchy who took office in August, was Uribe’s loyal Minister of Defense from 2006 to 2009 and was thus responsible for heinous crimes. Among them, the infamous case of the “false positives.” These were civilians, many of them youth, assassinated by the Colombian armed forces, who were later called “guerrillas killed in combat.”
According to an article by Hernando Calvo Ospina, a Colombian journalist exiled in France, “When Santos arrived at the Ministry, in July 2006, there were 274 cases of ‘false positives.’ The following year, it climbed to the top: 505 murdered.” (Le Monde Diplomatique en español, March 2011)
Santos was also responsible for the bombing of the FARC encampment on the border of Ecuador that killed Commander Raul Reyes and 24 other people, including four Mexican and one Ecuadorian student.
During his presidency, Santos continues the close relationship with Washington, particularly in military matters. He has committed Colombian military counterinsurgent units to the U.S. war against Afghanistan and has sent the Colombian military to train armies in other U.S.-allied countries in Latin America.
In Colombia Santos continues Uribe’s criminal policies, only under a different name. Uribe called the violent anti-insurgency military campaign responsible for thousands of murders of unionists, peasants, Indigenous people, journalists and other social activists “Democratic Security.” Santos renamed it “Democratic Prosperity.”
Now Santos says the murderous paramilitaries no longer exist and what’s left is just a “criminal gang” they call BACRIM.
Why the U.S./Colombia FTA now?
Despite the many “democratic” justifications both governments expound, they are in reality pursuing the deal to benefit their financial interests at the expense of working people in both countries who are already suffering from the economic crisis.
Resistance to the trade pact, however, is palpable in Colombia and in the U.S. On April 7, there were successful demonstrations in Colombia where different sectors, including unions, students, retired workers, teachers, small business owners and broad social movements, came together to oppose the neoliberal plan.
U.S. ambassador in Ecuador refuses explanation
On April 5, U.S. Ambassador in Ecuador Heather Hodges refused to give any explanation to Rafael Correa’s government regarding a cable Wikileaks revealed. In that cable Hodges wrote that there was widespread corruption within Ecuadorean police and that President Correa had appointed a former police commander, knowing he was corrupt. (Telesur)
Ecuadorian Foreign Affairs Minister Ricardo Patiño demanded an explanation. Hodges replied only that the cables had been stolen and neither she nor Washington had anything to say.
“Considering the response insufficient and unsatisfactory, the government of Ecuador decided to consider Hodges as a persona non grata and asked her to leave the country in the shortest possible time.” (andes.info.ec, April 5)
On April 7 the Obama administration, instead of responding to Correa’s request for an explanation, expelled the Ecuadorian ambassador.
President Correa has held several interviews and radio talks on this issue. Correa said that although he did not personally know former Police Chief Jaime Hurtado, this officer will, in due time, “have to defend his honor.” Correa also said that Hurtado was probably attacked “because Hurtado was the one who helped disband the [police] units that were financed by the CIA and were paid by the U.S. embassy.” (andes.info.ec, April 7)
Correa described Hodges’ behavior as shameful, stating that “in Latin America at least, colonialism was finished and what they will encounter in Ecuador is dignity and sovereignty.”
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