New Yorkers confront Colombian trade minister on FTA

Colombian trade, industry and tourism minister Luis Guillermo Plata was in New York on March 8 to push the Free Trade Agreement (FTA, or TLC in Spanish). Accompanied by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and other officials, Plata participated in a roundtable in Queens to defend President Alvaro Uribe’s human rights policies. “At this time, the government of Colombia has more than 1,900 unionists under its protection,” he said, claiming that the number of murders of unionists had fallen to 26 in 2007 from 196 in 2006. Outside the restaurant where the meeting was held, a group of youths from a local group, the People’s Referendum on Free Trade, chanted slogans against the FTA. (El Diario-La Prensa, March 7)

On March 6 about 200 people rallied outside the Colombian consulate in New York to protest murders in Colombia by right-wing paramilitaries. Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated against the paramilitaries in Colombian cities on March 8; on Feb. 4 there were even larger government-backed marches against the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). (ED-LP, March 7)

On March 5 US president George W. Bush suggested that a diplomatic crisis which broke out between Andean nations after a March 1 raid by Colombia on a rebel camp in Ecuador was a reason for Congress to ratify an FTA with Colombia. Congress has been reluctant to back the deal, citing the Colombian government’s human rights record. “If we fail to approve this agreement, we will let down our close ally, we will damage our credibility in the region and we will embolden the demagogues in our hemisphere,” Bush said, apparently referring to Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. (New York Times, March 5)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 9

See our last posts on Colombia and the FTA.