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Colombia’s unions question Obama’s commitment to human rights

posted by Sarah Kinosian

Colombia news - FTA

After Sunday’s announcement that the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement is set to take effect May 15, Colombian unions doubt the sincerity of the U.S. government’s commitment to human rights.

“They continue to kill union workers, the labor cooperative model still exists, laborers continue to be exploited and there is still 95% impunity for cases of violence against trade unionists,” the Secretary General of Colombia’s National Union of Food Workers (SINALTRAINAL), Edgar Paez, told Colombia Reports.

According to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the Andean country had complied with the labor conditions set forth in Labor Action Plan, clearing the way for the trade agreement to go into effect.

However, several prominent politicians along with U.S. and Colombian labor unions disagree with this assessment and oppose the deal due to the fact that Colombia is still one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a trade unionist.

Paez said, “They have barely completed the minimum. Of the 37 points in the plan, the Colombian government has not even fully completed two of the requirements,”

In a 2008 campaign speech, Barack Obama said he would oppose the Colombia FTA “because violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements.”

That year, 52 Colombian trade unionists were killed. In 2010, 51 workers were murdered. Between 2011 and 2012 the total is 34.

“To pass the FTA without completing the labor action plan is a way of saying that the FTA is more important to the U.S. than workers’ rights. The North American government is thinking more about domestic politics, like possibly the upcoming election or the need to provide markets for American-made products in other countries like Colombia,” said a spokesman of opposition senator Alexander Lopez Maya.

He went on to say that this weekend’s announcement was a negative signal to Colombian workers and about Obama’s stance on human rights. “The U.S. needs to evaluate how serious they are about workers rights. If their support is in fact just for show, then that’s what they demonstrated with this summit. What are the actual politics of the Obama administration with regards to human rights?” he asked.

Critics of the agreement also question the benefit for Colombia. President of the Colombian Confederation of Workers, Tarsicio Mora Godoy, told this website, “the reality is that Colombian companies are not able to compete with the United States. Looking towards the future, there will be a greater crisis because this agreement will create nothing but difficulties for us and we are going to see the reality when the deal is put into effect; when people see that everything that was promised is not true.”

The Obama administration hailed the agreement as a win for human rights and the economies of both countries. “We are making good on President Obama’s promise to use a new approach to trade and stand up for the protection of workers in the U.S. and around the world,” said Kirk.

U.S. exports to Colombia have quadrupled in the last 10 years, reaching $14 billion in 2011. The U.S. International Trade Commission estimates the agreement will increase U.S. GDP $2.5 billion.

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