rabble | July 2, 2008
What Ottawa didn’t tell you about Colombia FTA
by Augusto Bohórquez
On June 7, 2008, on the official webpage of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, a press release with the following title appeared: "Canada Concludes Negotiations of Free Trade and Labour and Environmental Cooperation Agreement with Colombia."
Curiously, said negotiations occurred without the knowledge of the vast majority of Canadians and Colombians. Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, David Emerson, said that this agreement "will help to solidify the efforts of the Colombian government to create a more secure, prosperous and equitable democracy."
This leads one to ask what kind of democracy Emerson is referring to, since these agreements are negotiated in complete secrecy and behind the backs of the citizens of both countries.
With this kind of democracy, Canada is showing the world that it supports one of the most illegitimate regimes on the face of the planet. This has been a well known fact since the first election of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, which was obtained thanks to the territorial control of paramilitary groups, a widely acknowledged and documented scandal known as "parapolítica," or paramilitary politics.
Moreover, the Colombian Constitution was modified in 2006 in order to reelect Uribe to a second term, a process that depended on the decisive vote of Colombian House Representative Yidis Medina, who changed her vote at the last minute in favour of the government (according to her own confession given to the parliament through her testimony before the Colombian Supreme Court). Colombian media has dubbed this latest political scandal the "Yidis-política."
On the evening of Thursday, June 26, President Uribe called a rushed press conference in reaction to the decision by Colombia’s Supreme Court on the case of Yidis Medina: a guilty verdict. The court found that Medina did in fact cast her vote in exchange for political favours. She will spend three and a half years under house arrest for accepting bribes from the president. The Court’s statement on the case called into question the very legitimacy of the process that led to Uribe’s re-election. The president responded, on national television, that the justices who questioned the re-election process are doing the bidding of terrorists and called on the Colombian Congress to schedule a national referendum to repeat the 2006 elections.
"Paramilitarism is a strategy of the state," confessed former paramilitary boss Salvatore Mancuso in an interview, a policy of which, according to his testimony, he is living proof. Up to the time of his confession there appeared to be no problem. The real problem arose, rather, when Mancuso began to talk about paramilitarism as a strategy of the state for the benefit of transnational capital: a strategy that would, on the one hand, guarantee land and cheap labor for the implementation of megaprojects through forced displacement; and on the other hand, provide the security apparatus necessary for the protection of such an excellent comparative advantage.
It was at that point that Mancuso needed to be silenced and was subsequently extradited to the United States - not to pay for his crimes, which included massacres directed against the Colombian people from which multinational corporations directly benefited. The extradition of Mancuso halted any hope for the families of the victims in receiving their rights to truth and reparations, as U.S. justice will only judge him on charges related to narcotrafficking.
Canada also negotiated with a country with one of the world’s worst human rights records; violence has been perpetrated against human rights defenders, members of opposition political parties and social movements, trade unionists, students, rural peasants and indigenous peoples who are opposed to an illegitimate regime and its policies.
Development for whom? Canada and FTAs in Latin America
Today, Canada presents itself in Latin America as a "Third Way," differing from the models offered by the United States and Venezuela. Is this true? A look at the Free Trade Agreements being drawn up for Latin America may bring one to the conclusion that each new trade agreement is progressively more damaging for these countries.
The FTA between Colombia and Canada has been negotiated in secret; but one can assume that it is a carbon copy of the FTA signed by Colombia and the U.S., rejected by the U.S. Congress for the innumerable violations of human rights perpetrated in Colombia by the state.
These agreements function within the discourses of "development" and "win-win situations." Analyzing this fallacy of development and democracy through the experience of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), it is revealed that the Mexico that exists outside the bubble of Cancún "develops" only greater levels of poverty and misery.
Similarly, Mexican democracy itself has become something of a joke, given the inauguration of "President" Calderon, who was brought to power through stolen elections.
With the Canada-Colombia FTA, what is at play is the Canadian government’s decision to define its foreign policy and what kind of development and democracy it favours. By ratifying this FTA, Canadians would become complicit in the crimes perpetrated by the illegitimate regime of Uribe, Harper’s close "ally."
The decision to sign the FTA with Colombia for the benefit of private interests above the interests of the general public will aggravate the dismal situation of hunger, health care and education in Colombia, exacerbating the known social problems that stem from it.
The logic of accumulation promoted by these agreements is one that benefits transnational capital to the detriment of peoples. If this is Canada’s foreign policy, its people and the world should be made aware. By presenting itself as a "Third Way," as something better than the model offered by the U.S. or Europe, Canada is hiding the true meaning of the FTA, as they are all equally damaging and ill-fated for the people.
Moreover, the supposed "good name" of Canada on the world stage is being manipulated to push particular readings of development and democracy. What do they look like? Well, they are no different than those exported by the United States.
Canada, in approving the FTA with Colombia, will have to decide which model of "development" it will promote: development for people, or for transnational corporations?
Now more than ever, experience has taught us that this system is unsustainable in terms of the environment, the economy, food and human security and political inclusion. It is our right and obligation to construct a new model that will guarantee the survival of the planet and of humanity.
This will only be possible if it is done in an inclusive manner, if we form one united chorus, with all our voices and experiences and find the strength necessary to produce the results we want and need.
Finally, we must remember that the closing of the Colombia-Canada FTA negotiations does not represent ratification of this bilateral agreement. We invite the people of Colombia and Canada and the different social, political, student, union, rural, indigenous and women’s organizations to mobilize immediately to reject this agreement, an agreement that works against people and for the benefit transnational corporate interests.
We - as people who believe in the possibility and need to create a more just world and work for solidarity, inclusion, social justice and the protection of life - have the democratic right to demand that this dangerous agreement is not signed by our governments.
Augusto Bohórquez is a Colombian writer based in Canada.