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On Colombia, for the Dems


Having just read (and agreed with) Paul Street’s latest blog entry I’m in the awkward position of trying to encourage people to get this letter to Dems to try to convince them to vote against the FTA with Colombia. The introductory note my friend Manuel wrote to a group of us.

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The democrats oposed the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the US while a minority. Now, as a majority, Senator Rangel has changed the tune. The usual tactics: the speech is in favour of the environment, human rights, labour rights and the protection of access to health and medications, but the actions are geared towards making minor ammendments to the existing treaty and present these as consistent with the oposition to the deal. The agreement is the concession of the country to corporate and US interests. We have been documenting and proving the fact that this agreement is damaging for Colombia and the US. Now, a number of organizations and people in Colombia and the US have joined in an effort to presure the democrats in the US. Several visits from Colombian members of Congress, Unions, indigenous, peasant and afrocolombian communities to Washington and NYC have put the point across. Currently we have drafted a letter that will become open and public to circulate through alternative and commercial media, to the broad public and reach democrats in congress. I am attaching the final draft. My request is for your help in gathering signatures in the US, having the letter reach the broadest possible aidience and mobilize support in order to develop this agreement as a political issue in the US. Any help is appreciated. The next two weeks are crucial as the fast-track is running out of time and if it is not presented to congress before the 2 week deadline, it is unlikely that it will pass and it will not become an issue again until after the US Presidential elections. This is literally the most important issue for Colombia and Latinamerica at the moment.

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April …….

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives
Congressman Rahm Emmanuel, Chair, Democratic Caucus, House of Rep.
Congressman Charles Rangel, Chair, Ways and Means Committee
Congressman Sander Levin, Chair, Trade Subcommittee, Ways and Means
Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Chair, Rules Committee, House of Rep.

Dear Honorable Members of Congress:

We address this open letter to you as leaders of the Democratic majority in Congress. We urge you to vote against the proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which is being considered along with further military aid to Colombia. There are good trade agreements between countries but this agreement is not good for anybody. Not for the United States. Not for Colombia. There are many reasons to oppose it.

The FTA will increase drug availability on U.S. streets and it will damage Colombia’s agriculture, destroying the country’s food self-sufficiency. Increased importation of U.S. crops to Colombia will force peasants into the cultivation of illicit crops. Growing coca and poppies will be the only economically viable option for many decent peasants and rural workers.

The FTA will add to global warming by causing severe ecological damage to the tropical forests and virgin lands of Colombia in addition to the negative environmental effects which are already caused by the chemicals used to spray coca crops. The FTA limits itself to demanding that Colombia’s government comply with its own very lax environmental laws which have been aggressively weakened in recent years.

The FTA will result, like other treaties with Mexico and Central America, in increased unauthorized migration to the United States. NAFTA has been a disaster for Mexican farmers. It has driven many of them off the land, into the cities and northward to the United States in search of employment and income. If the Colombia FTA passes, we can expect more undocumented migrants.

The FTA will result in more unemployment among U.S. workers and pressure to lower wages in this country. Our workers would be exposed to competition with a labor market that is notorious for its extensive labor and human rights violations. U.S. workers are struggling for a living wage and this will be a setback in that struggle.

The FTA is being negotiated with a government implicated in severe violations of human rights via its cooperation with paramilitary death squads. Nearly one hundred political leaders close to President Uribe are either in jail, fugitives from the law or implicated in the operations of paramilitary organizations. There are already nine members of the Colombian Congress, all close allies of the Uribe administration, who have been indicted by the Colombian Supreme Court for their involvement with the paramilitaries.

The United States already supports this government with military and financial aid via the costly 2001 Plan Colombia and the Andean Regional Initiative which have failed completely in their publicly stated goal of reducing coca and opium poppy production by 50%. But it has resulted in enormous ecological damage caused by fumigation and disproportional displacement of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. The Colombian military has used U.S. aid to strengthen its campaign against guerilla groups. In the name of fighting the guerillas severe violations of human rights and attacks against the civilian population have taken place. Some of these operations, which in numerous cases appear closely connected with paramilitary depredations, have forced peasants off the land.

Colombia has more than 3.7 million displaced people, second only to Sudan in the world. Small plots abandoned by peasants, Afro-Colombians, and indigenous people have been taken over by elements linked to narcotraffickers and turned into large hand-holdings. The FTA would exacerbate and make permanent the victimization of the peasant population and would have a very negative impact on agriculture in general.

Property acquired by force and/or drug money is being declared legal by the Colombian government, and the land cultivation changed, to either coca cultivation or, as per the FTA model, from food staples to large scale export of tropical fruits, or large-scale growth of African palm for biofuel production. These changes undermine local food self-sufficiency, while benefiting a few corporate giants. Public opinion world wide is highly critical of the current administration’s cooperation and support of these oppressive conditions in Colombia.

The FTA is so fundamentally flawed that no amount of “side letters” of intent, or special attachments and amendments, can fix it. If you vote for this agreement you are voting for increased availability of drugs on US streets, increased environmental destruction, increased un-authorized immigration, increased suffering for the middle class, support for a government that is involved in severe human rights violations, support for a humanitarian crisis of gigantic proportions in Colombia, and increased damage to our international moral standing.

Please vote against the FTA and further military aid to Colombia.

Los Angeles Greens, Los Angeles, California
Colombia Human Rights Committee, Washington, D.C.
Student Trade Justice Campaign
Sisters of the Holy Cross, Congregation Justice Committee, Notre Dame, IN
Gail S. Phares, Director, The Carolina Interfaith Task Force on Central America and Witness for Peace SE
Committee of Union Activists, AFSCME, NY City District Council-37
(PDA)Polo Democrático Alternativo USA, New York and New Jersey
Committee of Union Activists, SEIU, Local 32BJ, New York
Raul Fernandez, Spokesperson, ASOCOL-Association for the Sovereignty of Colombia,
Movement against the FTAs with Colombia, Peru and Korea (New York).
Gilbert Gonzalez, Chair, Labor Studies Group, Univ. of California, Irvine, California
Ruth Goring and Daniel Delapava, Co-directors, Chicagoans for a Peaceful Colombia, Chicago, Illinois.
Gabriel Camacho, Massachusetts Chapter President, Labor Council for Latin American Development
Victor Rodriguez, Chair, Chicano Latino Studies Department, California State University, Long Beach
Colombia Vive, Boston, Mass.
Kara Martinez, Denver Justice and Peace Committee, Denver, CO

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