Open Letter to Juan Manuel Santos about the Plan of Action for the Signing of the Free Trade Agreement

Original Source : RECALCA
(Translated by Richard Henighan, a CSN volunteer translator. Edited by Chelsea Match a CSN Intern)
May 30, 2011
To: President Juan Manuel Santos
Mr. President:
We, the organizations that compose The Colombian Action Network on Free Trade (RECALCA), publicly express to you that we believe the Free Trade Agreement signed with the United States does not allow for the strengthening of the Colombian economy. This is true because of the inequalities between the two countries, and because the legal obligations agreed to by the State limit the possibility of undertaking public policies for the development and social welfare that bring about, guarantee and protect the Human Rights of the Colombian people.
The debate about this Free Trade Agreement was not democratic because it did not offer assurances for its critics or for the effected communities. President Alvaro Uribe Velez’s government, of which you were a part of, stigmatized the opposition. The Association of Municipal Councils of the North of Cauca, rice growers and university students held in-house meetings in which they disapproved your negotiations and the signing of the agreement.  In fact, to facilitate the ratification by the US Congress you agreed with Barack Obama to develop a Plan of Action ” to protect labor and union rights recognized at the international level, to prevent violence against union leaders, and to bring to justice anyone who caries out this type of violence.”
Next, we present our reasons for disagreeing with this Plan of Action.

1.  The plan of action serves the interests of foreign businesses. It is obvious that the Free Trade Agreement is useful for the US government’s goal of “seeking an ambitious commercial agenda to support US economic growth”. It increases protection for the US economy, assuring ” that our commercial partners fulfill basic labor standards and protect labor rights”. In dozens of declarations, exporters and US businesses have reaffirmed that it will increase exports to Colombia.

2.  The Plan of Action is totally insufficient to combat the dislocation and labor adjustments that have been pushed on us during the last two decades in Colombia. Throughout the last decades, the Colombian Labor Movement has denounced the progressive deterioration of labor rights in the country expressed in such laws as #50 of 1990 and #789 of 2002, which facilitated outsourcing, economized on labor costs, opened the doors to layoffs, and above all weakened the labor movement. This legislation paved the way to violent repression and the violation of the human rights of thousands of labor leaders. The measures included in the agreement that you support cannot reverse this direction. They will not succeed in giving back the labor movement’s social base or the influence of its martyred leaders.

3.  The measures expected to occur promptly with the Plan of Action are indicative of intentions not of results.  A real agreement between the Government and the working class must close the door on subcontracting and free the hands of labor not only in private businesses but also in public entities, as well as restore the rights of workers who have been victims of subcontracting. The undo use of work arrangements such as workers’ cooperatives, temp-work businesses, and the contracting of services will not be reversed solely by more work inspectors. Rather, the way forward demands the strengthening of the productive capacity of the Colombian economy, the dismantling of the laws that allow these harmful practices, the revaluing of the social, economic, and political contributions of workers in the construction of the present and future of this country, and the renewal of labor and union rights.

4.  The agreements you have made, as President of the Republic, do not ensure that the impunity will be lifted for the crimes committed against the labor leaders.  Now it is not possible, in such a short time, to reverse the effect of the failure of the Colombian Judicial system, which during the last decades turned its back on the protection of the human rights of those who dared to oppose the State and the interests of International Corporations.

5.  The measures in the Plan of Action do not address the necessity of bringing to light the innumerable violations of Human Rights, which have affected the Indigenous peoples, and the Afro-Colombians. The Constitutional Court declared the forced displacement of millions of Colombians as an “unconstitutional state of affairs” in orders #005-2009, #004-2009, and #92-2008. These ordered the Government to take corrective and preventive measures, but they have not been carried out. The InterAmerican Court for Human Rights declared that ” the prospect of the disappearance of any one of the sixty-five Indigenous Communities that have declared themselves at risk due directly or indirectly to the armed conflict; the discrimination; and the lack of protection implies a series of historic violations, both wide and deep, of both the individual and collective human rights protected by the American Convention on Human Rights.”

6.  The Plan does not even question the actions so enormously harmful to the economic and social rights of the Colombian people. Free trade in agricultural products makes the peasant farmers enormously vulnerable in the midst of a global food crisis and a difficult winter. Likewise, it establishes a new definition of intellectual property that benefits the Multinationals in the sale of medicines during the worst crisis in the Colombian Health System, which, as a result, restricts access to the right to health care.

The Plan of Action signed by you is an illusion since it only appears to guarantee labor rights in our country. It replaces the Constitution’s requirements and legal obligations of the State to guarantee, protect, promote and ensure human rights with a Free Trade Agreement. We call on you to cease the ongoing negotiations to further the Free Trade Agreement signed with the United States. Instead, go forward with what is demanded by basic human rights through policies that recognize the legitimacy of the social movements and welcome their proposals and demands.


Enrique Daza Gamba, 

The Colombian Action Network on Free Trade (RECALCA)


Signers: Colombian Peasant Action. Never-ending Action for Peace.  APROCOLAT-Taluá.  Friends of the Earth, Colombia (CENSAT Agua Viva). Colombian Association of Agricultural Engineers (ACIA). Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN). Association of Sumapaz Bean-farmers.  Cuntinamarca Department Association of Peasant Small-holders (ADUC). The National Association of Black and Indigenous Women Peasants (ANMUCIC). National Association for Agricultural Salvation. Union of University Professors (ASPU). The Right to Health Association. Women’s Rights and Work. APPEAL. CENOA. Unified Workers Confederation (CUT). The Center for the Study of Work (CEDETRABAJO). Center for Popular Research & Education (CINEP). Josè Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective. Committee in Solidarity with Venezuela. Committee for the Defense of the Páramo of Santurbán (a high mountain ecological zone in central Colombia). Colombian Pensioners Confederation (CPC). Federatiuion of Colombian Workers (CTC). The Coordination of Andean Women Workers, Colombian Chapter (COMUANDE). National Agrarian Coordination (CNA). The Colombian Company for an Integral Environment (Corambiental). Cactus Corporation ( Supporters of workers in the cut flower sector). Raúl Eduardo Mahecha School for the Development of Labor Policy. Foundation for Cultural Research (FICA). Colombian Federation of Public Schools for Accountants. Colombian Federation of Educators (FECODE). Federation of Women Farmers of Nariño (FEMUCAN). Nagtional Federation of University Professors. Fensuagro. Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (INDEPAX). Latin American Institute for an Alternative Society and an Alternative Law (ILSA). League of the Users of Home Public Services. Worldwide March for Women- Colombia. Roundtable for Agrarian Unity. Roundtable on the Political Power of Rural Women (MENCOLDES). Colombian Students Organization (OCE). National Organization of the Indigenous of Colombia (ONIC). The  Newspaper from Below. Peaceful Planet. The Network of Citizen Investigators. International Network on Gender and Commerce, Colombian Focal Point. Colombian Network Confronting International Mining Conglomerates. Lanzas y Letras Magazine.  The Union for Workers of the Colombian Institute for Family Wellbeing  (SINTRABIENESTAR). The National Union of Cane Cutters (SINALCORTEROS). The Communications Network of ACIN. Barista Unity. The National Union for the Users and Defenders of Home Public Services. The Coordinator of Social Movements and Organizations (Comosocol).


Note: RECALCA  is made up of more than fifty organizations and social movements. Since 2003 it has been following the Free Trade Agreements that Colombia has negotiated. It has also promoted public debate over the effects they have on the rights of the people.

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