Colombia Free Trade protest by b.wu on Flickr

Colombia Free Trade protest by b.wu on Flickr

The Obama Administration announced today it intends to move to Congress a NAFTA-style trade deal with Colombia (better known as Colombian “Free Trade”). The trade end of the deal remains largely unchanged from the language originally negotiated by George W. Bush. The hold up for the last five years has been the little issue of union members being assassinated in Colombia. Specifically, 2,850 trade unionists have been assassinated in Colombia in the last 25 years, including 52 murdered in 2009.

Good news! The Obama Administration and Colombia have agreed to an “Action Plan” to reduce those assassinations in the next 3 months before Congress ratifies the NAFTA-style trade deal. The “Action Plan” (their caps) is three pages of bullet points that set checkpoints for Colombia to reduce the murders of union members.

As Marcy Wheeler noted, those checkpoints are essentially “assassination stress tests” – a meaningless series of goals without real enforcement, and without a requirement that the number of murders is actually, you know, reduced. Here are the main points of the assassination stress tests:

The Colombian government will:

  • Dramatically expand, by April 22, the scope of its existing protection program for union leaders to provide protection for labor activists (such as shop stewards and bargaining committee members), workers who are trying to organize or join a union, and former union activists who may be threatened because of their past union activities.
  • Eliminate, by July 30, the current backlog of risk assessments for union members who have requested protection and to ensure that in the future the Colombian National Police will process all risk assessments within 30 days.
  • Revise, by April 22, its teacher relocation and protection program to address the high risks to teachers and work together with the U.S. government to ensure that the program effectively protects them.
  • Enact, by June 15, a reform of the Criminal Code to criminalize and penalize actions or threats that could adversely affect fundamental workers’ rights, including threats against labor organizers and otherwise interfering with worker’s rights to organize and bargain collectively, with up to five years’ imprisonment.
  • Direct the Colombian National Police to assign 95 full-time judicial police investigators, by no later than December 2011, to support prosecutors handling cases of crimes against union members to address the prosecutions.

If President Obama was serious about reducing the number of murders of union members in Colombia, it would not be nearly enough to put some laws on the books and call it a day. The Assassination Stress Tests are designed to let the Colombian government say they’re doing something about assassinations, with no actual requirement to stop people from being killed. If Colombia wants a free trade deal, show measurable reductions in murders of union members. But that’s not going to happen on the Administration’s timeline.

The Assassination Stress Tests call for Colombia to hit its main points by mid-June – just in time for the deadline imposed by House Republicans to push through all three pending trade deals, including Korea and Panama. While the Administration initially balked at moving all three trade deals together, it appears as though they’re doing just that. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk was frustrated by the lack of movement on the Korea deal in a White House call this afternoon, during which he also revealed that the Panama trade agreement would move “in the coming days.”

So, to recap:

  • Assassination Stress Tests call for Colombia to look to have done something on assassinations in the next 2.5 months, without actually reducing the number of assassinations
  • Panama, Colombia, and Korea all move forward to Congress, likely before the August recess
  • But don’t call it a “package” – Ron Kirk was adamant that there is not a “package” trade deal. It’s just that the Administration will engage in “sequencing the timing with Congress” on all 3 deals. Right.

Here is the point in the post where I would detail the opposition from labor groups and other progressives opposing this job-killing (and union-member killing) trade deal.


No labor unions have issued statements opposing the deal. The AFL-CIO, despite a 10-year campaign railing against the Colombia trade deal, is completely silent. Nothing. Just two weeks ago on the federation’s blog, the AFL-CIO said they remain opposed to the deal. But nothing since the deal was realized. Why’s that?

UPDATE: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka comes out swinging against the deal:

We have no doubt that if 51 CEOs had been murdered in Colombia last year, this deal would be on a very slow track indeed.

On a conference call with reporters, US Trade Rep. Ron Kirk said that the administration had asked Democrats in Congress, as well as labor unions, to hold off on criticism of the trade deal until Colombia had a chance to “execute” its “Action Plan.” It seems as though they’re doing so.

Don’t kid yourselves: this “Action Plan” is designed to give enough cover to Colombia to look like they’re taking action on assassinations without doing diddily. And it gives the White House enough time to neutralize opposition from Democrats and unions by setting the assassination stress tests to end right before a campaign to rush it through Congress would begin.