On February 7, 2007, Carmen Cecilia Santana Romaña, a leader of a Columbian agricultural workers union was murdered in her home that she shared with her 3 children and her husband Hernán Correa Miranda, who was also a union leader. Carmen Cecilia Santa Romaña was among the over 2500 union activists killed in Columbia since 1986. Most have been killed by paramilitary death squads with close ties to the Columbian military. The US government has lavished millions on that military.
It’s amazing how much terrorism it takes to keep a US approved free market economy going these days. Carmen Cecilia Santa Romaña had visited a Columbian human rights organization in November 2006, and spoke openly of the fear she felt and the intimidation that was part of her everyday life. The father of her children had been murdered and she wanted the killers found. She wanted to return to her home and resume her work as a union organizer, but her actual homecoming turned into a death sentence.
Ms. Santa Romaña died while debate continued in the USA about whether we should sign a Free Trade Agreement with her homeland of Columbia. To my knowledge, no one from our corporate elite ever consulted her about how this agreement would foster freedom and democracy in her country. Well it’s too late to ask her now.
Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations in 1776, was one of the first economists to analyze free markets. He hated the idea that workers could meet together to raise the price of their labor. He also thought no one had the right to stop workers from attending such meetings. A war on the labor movement was not on his agenda. But in the free market paradise of Columbia, even those ideas can get you killed. It’s ironic that the great guru of free markets would also have been a target of the terrorist death squads.
When Pedro Zamora of Guatemala went to pick up his sons from a medical appointment on a Monday morning in January of 2007, he didn’t know that this was the last time he would ever see them. While driving them back from the hospital, he was ambushed by terrorists who pumped 100 bullets into him. One of them then shot him at close range in the face, the style chosen by the death squad terrorists in Guatemala. Pedro Zamora’s last act on this earth was to push his kids to the floor to save their lives. His 3 year old son Angel was wounded in the attack.
Pedro Zamora was the leader of a Guatemalan dock workers union and no stranger to threats and intimidation. Because of his skill as a labor organizer and his many international connections, he had been harassed police and by the dock management for months.
Guatemala is one of several nations who are part of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) passed by the U.S. Congress in 2005. According to its Washington fans, "CAFTA will stimulate not just growth, but also positive structural change, [by] strengthening the political transformation already under way in Central America and the Dominican Republic toward democracy and market-based economies."
Pedro Zamora died two years after we passed a Free Trade Agreement with his homeland of Guatemala. To my knowledge, no one from the corporate elite had ever consulted with him about how well this Agreement fostered freedom and democracy in his country. Well it’s too late to ask him now.
If Adam Smith was the 18th century guru of the free market, surely Milton Friedman qualifies as its 20th century apostle. But Friedman went much further, linking free markets and democracy. According to Friedman, free markets lead to political freedom.
This was a curious position for him to take considering Friedman’s friendly relationship with former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and former Chilean dictator Augosto Pinochet, both of whom promoted terrorism against their political opposition. President Reagan was a steadfast supporter of the death squad terrorists who massacred thousands of people in Central America during the 1980’s, another episode in the long war against the Central American labor movement. With the help of Richard Nixon, Augusto Pinochet overthrew a democratic government in Chile and killed thousands in the war against the South American labor movement.
Milton Friedman’s ideas are well publicized in his many books and in a popular TV series called "Free To Choose". He was an honored guest of heads of state and heads of corporations. He won many awards and is cited as one of the most influential economists of the 20th century, yet he shied away from explaining his collaboration with terrorist violence. Why on earth would anyone collaborate with terrorist violence and dictatorship in the name of freedom?
Perhaps because definitions of freedom depend upon where you fit into the class system.
For slaveowners in early America, freedom meant the freedom to own slaves and the freedom to treat them as property to be destroyed, abused, misused, or even treated "kindly" in a paternalistic fashion. As a slave owner, you were "free to choose." For the owners of today’s global corporations, freedom means the freedom to treat workers as a disposable commodity to be destroyed, abused, misused or even treated "kindly" in a paternalistic fashion. As a global corporation, you are "free to choose".
Slaves and free workers define freedom very differently: first and foremost is the right to live rather than the right to be killed. Slaves want to become free workers and free workers want the right to organize and better their lives. It’s really not very complicated .
Milton Friedman’s hatred of the labor movement is well documented in his writings and public appearances, although he never openly advocated murder. He was only a collaborator, giving intellectual cover to people such as Reagan and Pinochet. For example Friedman blamed the military coup on Chile’s "unfree economy", an economy where the labor movement had played an important role.
So, get rid of the labor movement and you can move to a truly free market economy. That certainly explains the U.S. supported state terrorism that swept across Central and South America starting in the 1950’s with the overthrow of a labor government in Guatemala. The wealthy Latin American elites, together with Uncle Sam’s money and military aid, made war on the Latin American labor movement slaughtering communists, socialists, catholics, liberals, conservatives and anyone who even suggested that workers had the right to organize and better their conditions.
Of course the wealthy elites and the multinational corporations were encouraged to organize companies on behalf of profit and exploitation.That kind of organizing was permitted. They were "free to choose" wealth and power. Working people were "free to choose" silence if they wanted to escape possible torture and death.
As a hemispheric strategy, it was only partly successful. They could kill individual labor organizers, but they couldn’t kill a labor movement. They could establish corrupt dictatorships, but couldn’t keep them going forever. In countries like Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Brazil and Bolivia, the US backed terrorist governments were overthrown by popular resistance and some semblance of democracy returned.
However in Guatemala and Columbia, democracy has only a tenuous hold. The US still has strong influence over the these nations, which is why terrorism against the labor movement continues, although much reduced from previous decades. The labor movements of these countries have been decimated by murder and reduced in strength by fear. Mathematically, there is no longer a need to kill as many people.
The deaths of Carmen Cecilia Santana Romaña and Pedro Zamora were reminders that if workers don’t bow their heads and silently march toward the glories of the free market, the days of mass slaughter could return.
It’s easy to see why large US corporations would back free trade agreements and the Milton Friedman version of free markets. Labor movements compete with corporate owners for the profits of their businesses. Eliminate labor movements and you eliminate that competition. And all this time you thought competition was the lifeblood of the free market. Well, perish that thought.
I’m not much of a statistician and macro-economics is not what I wake up to in morning, but I do have some questions. Could someone please do an economic estimate of how many people must to be killed, beaten up or jailed in order for a nation to be hailed as a beacon of economic freedom and worthy of an Free Trade Agreement with the USA?
After all, I pay taxes. That makes me an investor in such ventures. Like any good bean counter, I want hard numbers and computer projections. Is there a terrorism index I can study to be sure that just the right amount of terrorism is applied to a population? Too much would be wasteful. Too little would be ineffective.
What about labor costs and overhead? What does it cost to hire and equip an assassin or a torturer these days? What about training and employee benefits? What are the energy and construction costs for secret prisons? What about the janitorial services to clean up the blood and remove the broken bodies?
Is there a stockholders meeting where I can pick up a slick looking annual report with artistically designed colorful charts accompanied by professionally posed photographs of top management?
And will this annual report have the photographs and life stories of all the people who had to die to make the wonders of the free market and free trade possible?
Finally, when do we get some straight answers from our free trade evangelists?