Congressman Smith Backs Colombian Trade, But What About Human Rights?

William Aviles, Kearney Hub On Wednesday, Rep. Adrian Smith will conduct a town hall meeting at the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island. The event from 1-4:30 p.m. is to focus on international trade where Smith will undoubtedly re-state his demand that the United States ratify its free trade agreement with Colombia. Smith’s congressional website raises his “surprise” that the U.S. has not ratified this agreement while citing the possible jobs that might be gained. However, widespread human rights violations in Colombia, including the killing of hundreds of civilians by the Colombian army, as well as the murders of trade unionists, have been central to why the agreement has been delayed and why Smith should oppose it. Since 2002 at least 1,000 civilians have been killed by the Colombian armed forces in which the military falsely presented these civilians as guerrilla combatants as a way to improve their combat statistics, and potential salary bonuses or extra vacation time. Colombia has been fighting a war with armed insurgents for more than four decades. A majority of the military’s victims have been members of poor rural communities. A 2009 United Nations report concluded, “The sheer number of cases, their geographic spread, and the diversity of military units implicated, indicate that these killings were carried out in a more or less systematic fashion by significant elements within the military.” So far Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos has made little progress in bringing to justice those responsible for these killings. In addition to this “false-positives” scandal, Colombia’s rural population has been internally displaced on an unprecedented scale, with more than 4 million Colombians out of a population of 44 million fleeing their communities for fear of their lives in the last 20 years. Actions of the military, armed insurgents and conservative death squads all have contributed to this displacement, with almost 300,000 displaced in 2010. This displacement will only be exacerbated by the increase of U.S. agricultural exports that will arrive with a free trade agreement, only worsening their already precarious economic position. The Colombian government’s role with “false positives” and “internal displacement” should at least give pause to supporters of this agreement. However, the plight facing trade unionists should be enough for these individuals to reconsider their uncritical call for passage of the agreement. Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist. According to the National Labor School, Colombia’s central organization monitoring labor rights, more than 2,700 trade unionists have been murdered since 1986. The International Trade Union Confederation concluded that 51 trade unionists were killed in Colombia during 2010, half the world’s total. The perpetrators of these crimes have enjoyed an almost 95-percent level of impunity, with actual convictions being relatively rare. How can we support a trade agreement with a country where workers are not free to organize without a potential death sentence? Should we ratify an agreement with a country where such human rights violations continue to occur on a daily basis? Why shouldn’t we use the immense leverage of this free trade agreement as a way to promote peace and human rights in Colombia? In response to Smith’s surprise to the failure in ratifying this agreement, opponents of the U.S.-Colombian trade pact are seeking evidence that the Colombian government is serious about defending the right to unionize and that it is making progress in prosecuting members of its security forces and national government implicated in the continuing violations of human rights. Until such real, substantive progress is achieved Smith should oppose the U.S.-Colombian free trade agreement. William Avilés is a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and author of “Global Capitalism, Democracy, and Civil-Military Relations in Colombia.” Read original post here.