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Violence and Impunity Argue Against Free Trade Agreement With Colombia
USLEAP Newsletter August 2006
Colombia's continuing status as the most dangerous country in which to be a trade unionist combined with the government's failure to make any discernable progress on impunity is providing a powerful argument to opponents of a free trade agreement with Colombia that could be voted on before the end of the year.
A Washington Post columnist described the Bush Administration's push for a free trade agreement with Colombia as "ridiculous" in a June 14, 2006 article based on the release by the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center of Justice for All: The Struggle for Worker Rights in Colombia. The Solidarity Center report also prompted a New York Times editorial on July 12, 2006 that argued that before a free trade agreement with Colombia is approved, "Americans need reassurance that [President Alvaro] Uribe's government will do more to protect workers' rights, instead of standing aside as union leaders are systematically killed."
The chief author of the report was Robert Perillo, USLEAP's regional staff person. Release of the report received wide-spread news coverage in Latin America, where it effectively upstaged coverage of a June 14 meeting in Washington, DC between Colombian President Uribe and President Bush.
Speakers at the report's release, held at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, included Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-IL, a leading House opponent of current U.S. policy towards Colombia, as well as Linda Chavez-Thompson, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO, Barbara Shailor, Director of the AFL-CIO's International Affairs Department, and Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of the Latin America Working Group and former chair of USLEAP. Charlie Key, Secretary-Treasurer of the Georgia AFL-CIO, provided a moving account of how a visit to Colombia in 2005 brought home the dangers faced by workers in Colombia who seek to exercise their basic rights.
Although the Bush Administration announced in February that it had concluded negotiations for a free trade agreement with Colombia, the announcement was premature as negotiations continued into the summer. A "final" agreement was announced the second week of July. Congress is not expected to vote on the agreement before the November elections but it could come up during a "lame duck" session after the elections and before Christmas.
The 85-page report is available on the Solidarity Center website at www.solidaritycenter.org. Hard copies are available from USLEAP for $5 to cover shipping and handling. Consider ordering a copy for your members of Congress who have shown any openness on challenging current U.S. aid and trade policy on Colombia.
A key priority for USLEAP this fall is to educate U.S. policy makers about the level of violence against trade unionists in Colombia and the rampant impunity, issues that should be addressed before considering any free trade agreement with Colombia.
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