May 10, 2011 | By David Golemboski
Over the past three weeks, NETWORK and other members of the Interfaith Working Group on Trade & Investment have been making visits to congressional offices to talk about the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. President Bush signed the agreement in 2006, but Congress never voted to approve it. President Obama has indicated that he is ready to re-submit the agreement to Congress, and Republican House leaders have said they want to vote on it this summer.
Since 2006, NETWORK has raised concerns about this trade agreement. Colombia is in the midst of a serious humanitarian crisis and an ongoing violent conflict driven by wealth disparities and land inequality. It is the most dangerous place in the world to be a labor organizer, and human rights workers face constant threats. Colombia has over five million internally displaced people (IDPs) – more than any other country in the world. These are not conditions where fair trade is possible. Moreover, some provisions of the trade agreement will put small-scale farmers at great risk of losing their livelihoods, which will only further destabilize Colombia’s rural regions. For these reasons, NETWORK has opposed the U.S.-Colombia FTA.
In meeting with congressional staff over the past weeks, I have been struck by a few things:
Many congressional offices are uninformed of the human rights situation in Colombia. Most staff understand that Colombia is a country in conflict, but many have been surprised to learn about the number of IDPs, the violence against trade unionists and human rights workers, and other human rights violations. Many are even less familiar with the potentially destabilizing impact that the FTA could have in Colombia.
Everyone who learns about Colombia’s humanitarian crisis demonstrates concern. No member of Congress is interested in being labeled “unconcerned about human rights.” Many staff have asked for further information about the situation in Colombia, and several have indicated that they would raise these concerns anew with their bosses (YOUR representatives!).
Still, the impact of the Colombia FTA on human rights has not gotten enough attention. Conversations in the media and in hearings on Capitol Hill have focused exclusively on labor rights, skipping over the issues of displacement, violence against human rights workers, and paramilitary gro