Granma - Havana - March 21, 2006
Colombia-U.S.A.: The back door
BY ELSA CLARO
Granma International staff writer
WHILE Ecuador was once again erupting with popular protests and Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez was affirming that his country would not sign the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was trying to justify himself during his visit to Bolivia by saying that "it is not a question of ideology, it is a question of markets."
Almost in tandem, Noam Chomsky was making the same affirmation: the mechanisms developed and imposed by the United States and its allies are not "free trade treaties." They are a combination of liberalization and protectionism designed - unsurprisingly - to be in the interests of their creators: multinational corporations and the governments that serve them as "tools and tyrants," to utilize the same expression used by James Madison to describe the emergence of early state capitalism.
Chomsky, the U.S. political scientist and linguist, says that these trade agreements broadly guarantee the right to set monopolistic prices and deprive developing countries of the mechanisms that rich, industrialized countries used to reach their current state. Moreover, he says, what is called "trade" is to a large extent an economic fiction, which includes vast intra-corporate transfers within the rich economies, and these agreements - imposed almost secretly - have been tremendously unpopular.
In Colombia, similar opinions can be found, although they go straight to the point, explaining exactly what the ruinous disadvantages would be for the country with that pact, which is not to be submitted to Congressional approval under the current Congress, but instead in June, when recently-elected deputies assume their posts. The majority of seats were won by the seven political parties supporting President Uribe who, moreover, expects to be re-elected in May.
They say, for example, that without a shadow of a doubt, the same thing will happen as in Mexico, where the campesinos have been completely ruined, given the impossibility of competing with highly-subsidized U.S. agriculture. Colombia will receive U.S. surpluses and lose the little that it still retains in indigenous food security.
Many fear that the nation’s industries will suffer a similar decline, beginning with small businesses. That is based on statistics from the 1990s, which is seen as the beginning of a sort of rehearsal for the subordination of the Colombian economy to that of the United States, given that the establishment of neoliberalism was extended at that time.
Thus, many who oppose the treaty are warning that nothing can been approved or changed without White House consent if the FTA is renewed, and with that obvious loss of sovereignty, it would be almost impossible to modify the fatal economic model that has caused so much damage in the region.
Privatization in areas like education, public healthcare and basic services like electricity and water acquire a "commercial" nature under the pact that is harmfully irreversible, and the same thing is going to happen with the structure that allows transnationals to take over strategic resources, primarily oil.
There is a certain particularity in the Colombian case because it is the second most important country in the world in terms of biodiversity (after Brazil). In the FTA’s articles, the United States acquires the right to patent anything that has used indigenous genetic resources or knowledge regarding the use of natural medicine, without even asking for Colombia’s consent or without the country receiving the least benefit from those obtained by the companies exploiting those resources.
This is something that has been occurring in Africa for a long time, covering an extraordinary spectrum that ranges from bacteria exclusive to certain areas to be used to manufacture pharmaceuticals - including anti-AIDS products, obtained from the continent where AIDS is most prevalent - to chemicals for fading blue jeans. They don’t ask them for permission, either, or share any of the profits obtained.
This means the FTA roundly grants U.S. corporations exclusive rights over unique resources, and may even limit access by Colombians to their own natural heritage.
Uribe has declared himself in favor of other integration alternatives in the region, but by ceding so much in negotiations with the Bush government to sign this agreement, he is contradicting his previous affirmations. Although he tried to justify that in Bolivia because of the reduction of Colombia’s soy trade, the same is occurring with neighboring countries with similar or other products.
The Andean Community of Nations, we could say, is another case that emphatically shows how the signing FTA’s is not just responsible for internal damage. Recently, the Andean Court of Justice ruled on intellectual property cases, and the Uribe government was not complying with those rulings, just as was the case with the Cundinamarca Administrative Court, which prohibited it from signing the FTA under such detrimental terms.
There are many indications that President Hugo Chávez had good reasons for categorically and definitely stating: "We cannot allow a project that is purely economic, for the elites and the transnationals."
The FTAA is nothing different, its format for the entire subcontinent is just like this other, bilateral creation that colonizes those who join it.
It is not possible in this approach to the issue to leave out that other form of submission known as Plan Colombia, the virtual axis of Washington’s re-militarization of Latin America, given that many trade pacts include military commitments. The tendency is to reinforce those parameters and, with them, advantageous positions in an area that Washington considers to be its exclusive jurisdiction, but where airs of sovereignty are blowing, a reality that it finds intolerable.