Public Statement from La Chiva
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Colombia on July 16th  and formally began free trade negotiations. As people concerned with the current situation in Colombia, we reject the Canadian government’s plan to deepen ties with the country’s current regime, led by president Alvaro Uribe Velez, a regime that has the worst human rights record in the continent and has demonstrated collusion with narco-traffickers and paramilitary death squads. While fundamental human rights continue to be disregarded, the Canadian government should have no role in Colombia aside from condemning the behavior of the Uribe regime.
1. Colombia continues to be, by far, the most dangerous place in the world for trade unionists. Each year, the country surpasses the number of trade unionists killed in all other countries combined! Amnesty International reports, "cases in which clear evidence of responsibility is available indicates that in 2005 around 49 per cent of human rights abuses against trade unionists were committed by paramilitaries and some 43 per cent directly by the security forces" .
2. Uribe has consistently and publicly labeled his opposition (including members and supporters of political parties, social movements, human rights workers, trade unionists, and anti-free trade activists) as "terrorists" and/or "communists in disguise." Opposition to specific policies has resulted in threats, intimidation, forced displacement, and death for many activists in Colombia. This sort of wreckless behavior by a head of state demonstrates a contempt for democratic political inclusion and the intent to further divide Colombian society into those ‘with’ or ‘against’ the president. Moreover, Uribe’s remarks have often encouraged supposedly ‘demobilized’ paramilitaries to commit further crimes against their victims.
3. Rather than a negotiated peace, Uribe prefers a military solution to the conflict in Colombia and has militarized the countryside through his ‘Democratic Security’ policy, one that seeks to assemble an ‘army of informants’ to root out opposition groups and individual citizens who oppose one or all aspects of Uribe’s policies, all under the guise of counterinsurgency. The Democratic Security policy denies civilians their right to non-combatant status and is, therefore, against international law.
4. The so-called ‘peace process’ is a mockery insofar as it lacks peace. While the regime chooses the military option against the FARC, for example, it opts for a process of impunity and material reward for right-wing paramilitaries who ‘demobilize’. Impunity granted to demobilized paramilitaries only encourages the recurrence of human rights violations. While Harper and other Uribe allies applaud the ‘peace process’, many paramilitaries remain active and continue to further threaten and intimidate their victims. See more here . Canada’s support for the paramilitary peace process is also its complicity in the violence that has continued in spite of it.
5. The recently publicized ‘para-political’ scandal has tied many Colombian security officials (including the head of the DAS) and government members to paramilitary groups. The paramilitary peace process has revealed many of these links, which human rights activists and the international solidarity movement have claimed (and proven) for many years. The scandal is well documented and has reached such high levels of the Colombian establishment that it has threatened the US Congress’ ratification of a US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
6. The energy and mining sectors, largely dominated by Canadian multinationals, has seriously affected the livelihoods and health of communities in Colombia. To make way for multinational mining operations and oil and gas exploration, many communities have been forcibly displaced, and measures implemented to protect the environment have been frequently disregarded. For more information, see here .
7. The so-called ‘war on drugs’ continues to target supply rather than demand, and billions of dollars have been poured into eradication programs, the results of which have only been to displace thousands through the indiscriminate spraying of crops. Meanwhile, Plan Colombia and Plan Patriota (I and II) have lined the pockets of many US multinationals, such as Monsanto, while the countryside is blanketed in Roundup Ultra and Cosmoflux. Meanwhile, the price and production of cocaine have not been affected .
8. According to the UNHCR , "with 2 to 3 million displaced persons, Colombia presents the highest number of internally displaced people in the western hemisphere, and the second largest displaced population in the world after Sudan" . Displacement through the ‘drug war,’ the ‘dirty war’ against trade unionists and human rights activists, and the economic war for neoliberalism has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe that will take generations from which to recover.
In light of Colombia’s current situation and the role of the Uribe regime in exacerbating these conditions, we demand:
1. That the Canadian government condemn rather than reward violators of human rights.
2. That the Canadian government refuse to enter into economic negotiations before serious political and social concerns are addressed.
3. That Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and its development agency (CIDA) cease to equate economic development with the interests of Canadian multinationals, especially in the mining, oil and gas, and telecommunications sectors. The Canadian government’s latest foreign policy shift in focus from Africa to Latin America must not be for the interests of Canadian multinationals. And Latin America is no one’s ‘backyard’!
4. That the Canadian government recognize the fallacy of the Uribe government’s ‘peace process’ with the paramilitaries and the far-reaching effects of the ‘para-political’ scandal, facts that have prompted even the US Congress to seriously reconsider the ratification of the US-Colombia free trade agreement. If anything, Canada should be distancing itself from a peace process many condemn to be a mere charade aimed at giving flowers to the criminals and injustice to the victims.
5. That the public debate on the issue of free trade with Colombia include the fact that such an agreement would make Uribe and the elite interests he represents in Colombia only stronger, making the prospects for a fair and negotiated peace in Colombia even further away.
By extending the surreptitious hand of free trade and friendly relations to Uribe’s regime in Colombia, Canada is sending the wrong message. It is saying to the world that Canadians put commercial interests above serious political and social concerns, an attitude that will only breed more misery and strife and thereby increase insecurity for Colombians and Canadians alike. Furthermore, the notion of ‘Canada the good’ will remain another of Canada’s great myths. As long as the Harper government continues along this path, one in which Canada rewards gross human rights violations with economic ‘partnerships,’ Canadians can no longer see themselves as honest brokers on the international stage.
Canadians say NO to impunity and rewards for the criminals!
Canadians say NO to free trade with Colombia!
* Write to your Member of Parliament and the Prime Minister of Canada, urging that the Canadian government put human rights and the well-being of Colombians before the interests of Canadian multinational corporations. Tell them that Canada’s international reputation is on the line when it does business with the worst violator of human rights in Latin America:
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
* Talk to your friends and family about Uribe’s Colombia and the effects of FTAs in general.
* Get involved with a local Colombia solidarity movement — WE ARE NOW MOBILIZING!