Tomorrow, June 29, President Alvaro Uribe Velez of Colombia is scheduled to meet with President Obama in Washington. Several important issues between Colombia and the United States should be on the table for discussion.
Last week the Colombia Support Network (CSN) delivered through a reliable friend of the President’s several documents and a set of observations and recommendations about the policies of the United States toward Colombia.
Most of these spring from the review of Colombia policy undertaken at our CSN annual national meeting on May 29-31 in Madison. The recommendations we made include the following:
1. The U.S. government should oppose the proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Colombia until the following issues have been addressed:
a) The current draft will promote chaos in the Colombian countryside. In a country where 4.5 million people are internally displaced (nearly 10% of Colombia’s population and more than any other country except Sudan/Darfur),the proposed duty-free entry of subsidized food crops from the United States will undermine small-scale agriculture in Colombia, resulting in still more people being displaced from their lands. The FTA would promote large-scale African palm cultivation, benefiting large landowners and paramilitaries linked to drug-trafficking, who are the only ones with the extensive lands and monetary resources needed to undertake African palm production, which requires heavy capital investment and several years’ wait to have producing palm trees. The displacement of tens of thousands more persons would result in instability, itself contrary to the goal of United States foreign policy to promote “stability” in other countries.
b) Contrary to what President Uribe has said, labor union leaders and organizers in Colombia continue to be killed and threatened on a broad scale, greater than in any other country in the world. Before the United States government approves a bilateral trade agreement with Colombia these murders and threats need to be addressed and the Colombian government needs to take effective measures to end these assaults on unions.
c) President Uribe and his cabinet ministers have shown indifference to ecological concerns. The FTA should not be approved without incorporating substantial commitments by both countries to establish strong environmental protections in areas threatened by development projects, particularly the Amazon rainforest areas of Colombia. An end to the spraying of coca crops (and farmers’ food crops) with strengthened glyphosate (Round-up Ultra), or fumigation, should be a United States commitment. This relic of the failed “War on Drugs” has destroyed much of campesino agriculture, as food crops have been decimated by the fumigation.
d) The intellectual property provisions of the FTA must recognize Colombian indigenous peoples’ right to use their traditional medicinal remedies, without having to pay royalties to United States pharmaceutical companies for patents issued in the United States for these processes and the plants they involve. This protection from U.S. patents infringing upon these historical practices should be a fundamental part of any FTA between the United States and Colombia.
2. President Obama should consider carefully the effects of United States military assistance to Colombia, which has exceeded 5 billion dollars over the last decade. We submitted for President Obama’s consideration the CSN report detailing Colombian military forces’ abuses of the civilian population since September of 2005, which details hundreds of incidents of abuse, including murders, disappearances, collaboration with illegal paramilitaries, and the “false positives” kidnapping and killing of youths falsely presented later as “guerrillas killed in combat”—with information concerning the rewards for these atrocities established by Colombia’s Ministry of National Defense. Military assistance to Colombia should be halted unless and until these abuses, including military threats to local community organizations such as the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, end.
3. The United States government should take into account the political corruption surrounding President Uribe and his government. As Colombian newspapers have revealed in the past two days, the bribing of members of the Colombian Congress to vote for a Constitutional change to allow President Uribe a second term, carried out by close associates of Mr. Uribe, involved more than 30 Congressmen who accepted nominations to notary public posts and to diplomatic posts in return for, or as a reward for, their promise to vote for the change Uribe sought. This on top of the warrantless wiretapping of phone conversations and email communications of members of the Colombian Supreme Court and of leaders of opposition political parties which the Uribe Administration carried out. Our United States government should maintain high ethical standards, not reward those who, like Alvaro Uribe Velez, use their political office for personal gain and use the perquisites of their office illegally to consolidate and extend their own power.
4. Finally, we believe President Obama should take into account the manner in which President Uribe’s government has opened the door to foreign investment in a way which undermines the sovereignty and prosperity of the Colombian people. As journalist Garry Leech pointed out in an eye-opening presentation at the CSN national meeting, President Uribe has, in league with International Monetary Fund (IMF) directives, made access to his country’s natural resources very cheap and has welcomed foreign investment on extremely preferential terms. This will lead to a perception of inequality and resentment, sowing the seeds for a reaction which will give rise to the “instability” which United States foreign policy supposedly seeks to avoid.
We hope these concerns will be reflected in the policies President Obama and the United States Congress adopt toward Colombia in the days and months to come.
John I. Laun, President of CSN, on behalf of the CSN Board of Directors and Membership
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621