Colombia agrees to FTA labor conditions; opponents don’t buy it

US President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on April 7 agreed to a deal on the Andean country’s appalling labor conditions, clearing the way for the pending Free Trade Agreement. “This is going to be a win for the US,” Obama said while speaking in the Oval Office with Santos. The plan sets out a timeline for Colombia to address concerns about violence against union members, with Bogotá agreeing to “dramatically expand” protection for workers by April 22, come up with a plan by May 20 to build up the capacity of its regional judicial offices, and revise its criminal code by mid-June to make threats against workers’ rights punishable by up to five years imprisonment. The action plan is considered a “precondition” for the trade agreement to go into effect, though some of those measures are expected to be taken after congress acts on the FTA.

Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said the plan doesn’t go far enough. Teamsters President Jim Hoffa also expressed “very real concerns” that the plan won’t be enforceable. The Teamsters became the third major union to come out against the labor deal, following statements by the AFL-CIO and United Steelworkers that they remain opposed to the Colombia FTA. (Dow Jones, April 8)

A statement from the Latin America Working Group states: “A fair and humane trade agreement cannot be implemented in an environment in which union leaders are assassinated, the land rights of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and small-scale farmers are consistently undermined, and millions of people have been violently robbed of their homes.”

Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist. The statement recalled that on the campaign trail in 2008, Obama promised to not support an FTA with Colombia until conditions improved. “They haven’t. There were 52 trade unionists killed the year he made his promise and 51 killed in 2010. Now we must hold him to his word.”

The statement notes that the FTA “would encourage more large-scale agricultural, mining and other resource extraction projects that would push many Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities off their ancestral lands and into greater poverty.” Colombia currently has the largest displacement crisis in the world, even greater than that of Sudan, with 5.2 million people living in desperate conditions after being violently evicted from their lands. (, April 4)

See our last post on paramilitary terror in Colombia and the labor struggle.

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  1. Colombia is fighting a war
    It seems everyone conveniently forgets that Colombia is fighting a war against Communism all by itself which makes the countryside dangerous and judges,mayors, teachers and labor leaders are killed by communist narcoterrorists (FARC) and not the Colombian government or people. And the small businesses are suffering because the trade agreement is being used as a political football.
    What is the labor record of countries we deal with such as India, Pakistan, China… The reason big companies no longer manufacture in the US is because in Asia the can get away with dealing with companies that don’t pay their worker a decent wage and they work in inhuman conditions. So that excuse is just that an excuse.
    We shouldn’t be surprised the next time we decide to pay attention to Central and South America to find that they are all communist dictatorships.

    1. Transparent propaganda on Colombia
      Let’s see, how many ways are you distorting the truth? Let’s count.

      1. “All by itself”? Right, unless you count $6 billion in US aid over the past decade, making Colombia Washington’s top aid recipient in the hemisphere, and in the top five globally (after Israel, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey).

      2. All those labor leaders were killed by “communist narcoterrorists”? The paras’ hands are clean? Really? Who do you think you’re kidding? We both know that is total bunk. The FARC have killed peasants that refuse to collaborate with them, but the slayings of trade unionists are overwhelmingly the work of the paras, often in clear collaboration with the army and agbiz interests, as has been amply documented.

      3. “Small businesses are suffering because the trade agreement is being used as a political football.” Really? Would that include small peasant farms that stand to be forced out of the market as the FTA greases the way for agbiz giants, as in Mexico?

      4. So you think that rather than tightening the labor standards on India, Pakistan and China, we should loosen them on Colombia? So you support slave-labor factories such as exist in China, and think this would be a good model for the western hemisphere?

      5. All of Central and South America are “communist dictatorships”? By my reckoning, the only country in the hemisphere that could be remotely characterized as a “communist dictatorship” is Cuba, which is neither in Central or South America.

      OK, five. That’s pretty good for one short paragraph. A brilliant career in public relations awaits you.