IN THE NEWS ~ Colombia trade deal will increase repression – Latin American workers

In-depth online video news feature offers warning to Canadians about continuing on corporate trade route.

by Ish Theilheimer, with Michael Cowley-Owen and Samantha Bayard
The Harper Index

OTTAWA, March 31, 2009 – a special report from HarperIndex.ca: Last week the Harper Conservatives introduced into Parliament legislation to implement proposed free trade legislation with Colombia. Despite the poor reputation of corporate trade deals since the global financial and economic crash, the Conservative government apparently is fast tracking this legislation and the Liberal opposition shows no interest in opposing it.

Meanwhile in Gatineau, QC, labour and social activists from across the Americas were meeting with their counterparts from Canada, in a roundtable organized by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC). They met to talk about alternatives for trade arrangements between Canada and the Americas, to talk about the proposed trade legislation and to urge Canadians to put the brakes on. The day before the conference, they had met political party leaders in Parliament.

Victor Baez Mosquieira, the Secretary General of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas, from Saint Paulo, Paraguay, said, "Even if all those human rights were respected in Colombia, the free trade agreements and the free investments agreements are not the way out, the solution for the problems of development in Colombia."

David Abdulah an economist, political activist and General Secretary of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union in Trinidad and Tobago, spoke of the multiple crises hitting the Americas and how trade agreements have a more severe impact on small countries than large ones.

Manuel Rozental, a Colombian labour activist, an elected member of the Directorate of the Main, one of the opposition parties in Colombia, and an acivist with Colombia's indigenous peoples movement, warned that human rights in his country have been devastated by de facto corporate trade deals. He said, "Free trade agreements have one principle – the access to cheap labour and resources at no cost. So it implies and involves necessarily the deterioration of working and living conditions, the dismantling of freedoms and rights of people and the destruction of the environment."

"... Since 1990, the government of Colombia has introduced packages of legislation that allows transnational organizations to get in the country in conditions of tremendous advantage – of scale and other benefits. Which has allowed them to dismantle the national industries, extract the national and natural resources from the country at their will, privatize social services and public enterprises like the oil industry, electric industry, hospitals, etc. and increasing the costs and decreasing the accessibility to these throughout the country, and all these because there it causes concentration of wealth and because the wealth leaving the country leaves people increasingly poor. It leads to increasing social polarization, poverty and misery. It pushes people to, in the case of Columbia for example, directly and indirectly produces narco trafficking and the production of cocaine..."

NDP trade critic Peter Julian called Colombia "the worst place for trade unionists on the planet... The hundreds and hundreds of trade unionists over the last few years that have been killed, there is open violence against anyone that tries to organize in the workplace."

In a scrum, the next day, Liberal trade critic Scott Brison clearly indicated his support in principle for corporate trade deals and the Colombian one in particular, despite his party's former opposition to them.

This special online video news feature by Straight Goods News includes six clips posted in sequence.

To view the complete full YouTube playlist, start here:

Ish Theilheimer for Straight Goods News

To see individual interviews, follow these links:

Manuel Rozental, an elected member of the directorate for the main opposition party in Colombia, a coalition of all the left democratic parties

Victor Baez Mosquiera, the Secretary General of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas

David Abdulah, General Secretary of the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union, Republic of Trinidad & Tobago

Peter Julian, Member of Parliament and the New Democratic Party's International Trade Critic

Harper Index (HarperIndex.ca) is a project of the Golden Lake Institute and the online publication StraightGoods.ca