With a little more than a year until the 2012 elections, the White House and Congressional leadership are anxious to pass pending Free Trade Agreements (FTA) as soon as possible.
Most worrisome of all is the pending FTA between the US and Colombia. Corporate leaders and US and Colombian government officials with their public relations operatives are peddling lie after lie to justify passage.
The following guide put together by The Alliance for Global Justice will help people to better understand and counter the falsehoods they will be hearing in the coming weeks.
Distinguishing between fact and fiction with claims regarding the pending US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement
CLAIM: Passing the FTA will put the US in a better position to pressure Colombia to improve its labor and human rights record.
REALITY: US intervention in Colombia has caused more problems than it has helped and the FTA would only make things worse. Recent investigations by the Colombian Attorney General have uncovered extensive US involvement regarding domestic spying by former President Álvaro Uribe’s administration. Information was shared with and analyzed by embassy staff and domestic spying programs were funded by the CIA. Activities included gaining access to the bank accounts, following the families and bugging the offices of Colombian magistrates.
Targets also included labor leaders. According to an August 20, 2011 Washington Post article: “Another unit that operated for eight months in 2005, the Group to Analyze Terrorist Organization Media, assembled dossiers on labor leaders, broke into their offices and videotaped union activists. The United States provided equipment and tens of thousands of dollars, according to an internal DAS report, and the unit’s members regularly met with an embassy official they remembered as ‘Chris Sullivan.'”
Cocaine, the drug fueling the trade that’s left thousands dead in Mexico and Central America since 2007 and which 1.4 million Americans are addicted to, originates with two species of the coca plant grown in the South American Andes. Ninety percent of the U.S. market for cocaine is fed by Colombia, with the rest largely provided by Peru and Bolivia.
An estimated 310 to 350 tons of refined cocaine were trafficked out of Colombia last year, enough to make a rail of nose candy that would encircle the earth twice. Along with exporting cocaine northward, Colombia has become a laboratory for failed drug war policies that are finding their way to Central America and Mexico.
In July 2000 President Bill Clinton signed Plan Colombia (see note following article for more information) into law, initiating the anti-drug-producing and trafficking operation that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $7.3 billion to date. U.S. military bases have been established in Colombia under the plan, as have extensive air patrols, pesticide spraying and surveillance. Because of the violence, some 2.5 million Colombians have been displaced.
“The lessons of Colombia are being ignored in many ways. You’ll have mainstream analysts saying Colombia is the model to win the drug war. If Colombia is winning then what are the Colombians trafficking?” drug war expert Sanho Tree, a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., told The Indypendent.
As tens of thousands of corpses continue to pile up as a result of the US-led “War on Drugs” in Latin America, private contractors are benefiting from lucrative federal counternarcotics contracts amounting to billions of dollars, without worry of oversight or accountability.U.S. contractors in Latin America are paid by the Defense and State Departments to supply countries with services that include intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, training, and equipment.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that our efforts to rein in the narcotics trade in Latin America, especially as it relates to the government’s use of contractors, have largely failed,”said U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, chair of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight which released a report on counternarcotics contracts in Latin America this month. “Without adequate oversight and management we are wasting tax dollars and throwing money at a problem without even knowing what we’re getting in return.”
Sitting for hours in the market of Uribia in the Colombian department of La Guajira, watching indigenous Wayuu women in long flowing dresses selling smuggled gasoline and other Venezuelan wares, I started to wonder if I would ever reach the tiny fishing village of Cabo de la Vela on the Guajira Peninsula.
I kept getting conflicting stories as to whether the truck for Cabo had already left and whether there would be another that day. I was almost ready to backtrack to the city of Riohacha when two more travelers appeared, followed by the truck, into which were then loaded all kinds of goods plus myself and the other passengers. We set off.
Located on the northernmost tip of South America, the arid Guajira Peninsula straddles the border of Venezuela and Colombia. Until recently, it was rarely visited by outsiders, due in part to its Wild West reputation as a hub for trafficking in humans, drugs, and other items, and as the home of the strong-willed Wayuu, who were never subjugated by the Spanish and who have lived on their own terms in the La Guajira desert for centuries.
A declaration by the Ecuadorian government that U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges is “persona non grata” and must leave Ecuador as soon as possible should not come as a surprise, Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said today. Weisbrot noted that the expulsion follows recent troubling revelations in cables released by Wikileaks that describe U.S. government co-ordination with Colombia over a public relations strategy to attempt to link Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to the Colombian guerrillas the FARC.
“The Obama Administration doesn’t seem to know how to have normal diplomatic relations with democratic, left-of-center governments in the hemisphere,” Weisbrot said. He noted that there was a trend – well documented through U.S. government cables, funding disclosures, and other information – of attempts to undermine governments in Bolivia, Brazil, Honduras, Venezuela, and other countries. Continue reading “Ecuador expels U.S. ambassador”
In another misstep of the historic failure of Plan Colombia and the U.S.-supported War on Drugs, Colombia is training thousands of Mexican soldiers, police and court officials in an effort to boost Mexico’s fight against drug cartels.
Trainings have mostly taken place in Mexico, but now Mexican troops and police are traveling to Colombia to receive training from “Colombia’s battle-tested police commandos,” The Washington Post reported on Saturday. The article also suggests that, in addition to asserting itself as a regional power, Colombia is acting as a proxy for Washington because increased U.S. military presence in Mexico is not politically viable.
White House Drug Policy Director Richard Gil Kerlikowske, while meeting with Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón in Bogotá on January 18, said that Colombia “serves as a beacon of hope for other nations struggling with the threat to democracy posed by drug trafficking and related crime.”
A Beacon of Hope?
Kerlikowske’s deceptively rosy assessment of Colombia and the effectiveness of Plan Colombia is severely undermined by the facts on the ground.
The presumed kidnapping of Diego “The Boss” Fernández de Cevallos, one of Mexico’s most powerful politicians, has put Mexico’s security crisis in the international spotlight yet again.
The Mexican government hasn’t officially classified de Cevallos’ disappearance as a kidnapping. However, the fact that his car was found abandoned on his ranch with traces of blood and signs of struggle has lead his family to plea that his “captors” make contact in order to negotiate his release. At the time of writing, it is unknown if de Cevallos is alive or dead.
I was surprised during my trip to Colombia last month when my seemingly enlightened Bogotácab driver, who had been telling me about his support for Green Party presidential candidate Antanas Mockus in the upcoming elections, suddenly shifted gears and announced that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was loco.
The mental state of its leader was not the only issue the driver had with the neighboring country, and he added that money for Venezuela’s social programs came not from oil wealth but rather from proceeds Chávez received as part of an international drug smuggling ring. Among the co-conspirators in the ring, I learned, was ex-President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, ousted in a coup last summer which according to the cabbie had been justified based on the fact that Zelaya was also loco.
When asked in a Presidential debate why he opposed the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, Barack Obama framed his concerns with Colombia’s deplorable human rights record. Now that he is President and the labor movement is far more inconsequential, these concerns have evidently withered away. Yesterday, Secretary of Defense and Bush Administration carry-over Robert Gates was in Bogota expounding on the need to pay off America’s client state. As the Los Angeles Times reports:
Defense Department officials have favored the pact as a way to reward Colombia for its successful effort at beating back drug trafficking and the country’s insurgency…
“Colombia’s success against terrorists and narco-traffickers does offer a lot of opportunities for them to share their expertise,” Gates said. “We certainly would like to see . . . other countries take advantage of Colombia’s strengths.”
Yes, Colombia has done a smashing job of fighting people like this. Meanwhile, the United States Labor Education in the Americas Project informs us that Colombia remains the most dangerous place in the world for union organizers. More trade unionists have been assassinated in Colombia in the last six years than the rest of the world combined. As for those advances in human rights Gates mentions in the Times report, Colombia still has an impunity rate of 96% in the more than 2,700 worker’s-rights related murders that have been perpetrated in the last twenty years. Perhaps Amnesty International put it best when they reported on the threats facing human rights activists in the country: “Such hostility has been fomented by the Government, which appears to perceive human rights and security as mutually exclusive.”