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.'”
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.
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.
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.
As Colombians prepare to vote in presidential elections on May 30, opinion polls show former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos of President Alvaro Uribe’s National Unity Party (Partido de la U) with a commanding lead to replace his former boss, who was barred from seeking a third term earlier this year. A poll released by the National Consulting Center on April 8 shows Santos with 37 percent of the vote, Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus with 22 percent—surprising given the party’s formation just last year—and Conservative Party candidate Noemí Sanín with 20 percent.
To boost his campaign, Santos has pointed to government victories over the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during his tenure as Defense Minister, such as the killing of No. 2 commander Raúl Reyes during a cross-border raid into Ecuador in 2008 and the rescue from FARC captivity of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and others the same year. As for the infamous “false positives” scandal in which Colombian soldiers—on possibly thousands of different occasions—murdered innocent civilians and dressed them up as guerrillas, Santos has admitted that the Prosecutor General is currently investigating nearly 1300 such cases. He maintains, however, that “there are people who want to inflate the numbers, make the problem bigger, without taking into account how it is hurting the institutions”, something the military might have taken into account before engaging in the murder of innocents.
Candidates from three right-wing parties allied with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe won a clear majority in both the Senate and lower house in elections held on March 14. The results are considered to be a sign of how Colombians will vote on May 30 when they choose a successor to Uribe, who was recently barred from seeking a third term.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the emergence of the rightist Party of National Integration (PIN), which won 8 out of the 102 Senate seats, displacing the leftist Alternative Democratic Pole as the country’s fourth largest political party. The victorious PIN candidates were mostly relatives of ex-lawmakers now in jail or under investigation for ties to right-wing paramilitary groups. In a scandal that tarnished the previous Congress, 12 pro-Uribe legislators were jailed while another 80 are still under investigation.