Seven Democratic Members of Congress spoke out against the Obama Administration’s proposed Colombia “free trade” agreement and its onerous assassination stress tests. They were joined by the United Steelworkers Union, the first major union to speak out against the deal after the AFL-CIO labor federation. Each centered their opposition on the laughable “Action Plan” to reduce assassinations of union members.
The members of Congress include Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME), Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).
While Sutton and Slaughter released separate statements, the other Reps issued a joint statement criticizing Obama and the Assassination Stress Tests, saying that “genuine change” in the levels of violence and murder must be “in reality,” and “not just on paper.”
No other nation in the world is as notorious as Colombia for murders, violence and threats targeting trade unionists. The violence, threats and rights abuses take place within a perilous landscape of human rights abuses that affect broad sectors of Colombia’s people, especially in rural areas. These include human rights defenders; journalists; Afro-Colombian and Indigenous leaders; land rights, victims’ rights, religious and other community-based leaders – all of whom have experienced dramatic increases in threats over the past nine months, and many of whom have seen dramatic increases in murders of their leaders around the country.
We stand by the concerns and recommendations we provided to President Obama on March 17th. While we wait to see the details, the Action Plan thus far does not appear to meet those concerns. When so many lives are at stake, we do not believe this is a matter to be rushed to Congress until we are able to determine, including through consultation with the targets of violence and human rights violations in Colombia, whether genuine and lasting change has taken place on the ground – not just on paper, but in the reality that so adversely affects so many Colombians every single day.
The United Steelworkers have actively opposed trade deals with Colombia, and in a statement this morning, renewed its opposition, citing 6 murders of unionists this year, including 2 this week.
The reality on the ground in Colombia has not changed since the agreement was first signed. A record 52 unionists were killed in Colombia last year. Since 1986, only five percent of more than 2,800 union killings have been prosecuted, making impunity the standard for justice in the killings. This year alone, six unionists have been killed in Colombia, including two in the past week, even as the U.S. and Colombia were finalizing their new accord over the FTA.
These two most recent victims, Hector Orozco and Gildardo Garcia of the agricultural union known as Association of Peasant Workers of Tolima, were killed in a heavily militarized zone and were in fact threatened by the official Colombian army just before their killing.
USW President Leo W. Gerard decries the proposed Colombia FTA as a shameful reflection on America’s values. “These most recent killings put into grave doubt whether the Colombian government and its military are truly prepared to reform as the Administration presumes. The fact is, despite the newly negotiated ‘Action Plan,’ the situation in Colombia has not changed, and therefore, should not be rewarded with a Free Trade Agreement.”
It’s going to take more than a half dozen Members of Congress and the Steelworkers to stop this deal, but it’s a good start.