By Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch
Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a labor unionist. More unionists are assassinated in Colombia annually than in the rest of the world combined. This has contributed to the widespread public and congressional opposition to a U.S. “free trade agreement” (FTA) with Colombia. Since the Bush administration started FTA talks with Colombia in 2003, Members of Congress, unions, human rights and faith groups with expertise on Colombia have put forward demands for labor and other human rights violations to cease prior to consideration of any trade pact with that nation. The result? After declining in the year immediately following the FTA’s 2006 signing, the number of unionist assassinations has grown during the period of maximum congressional and public scrutiny, from 37 in 2007 to 51 in 2010. Meanwhile, forcible displacement and violence against Afro-Colombians and other vulnerable populations have increased.
To formally communicate to the administration benchmarks for improvement, on March 17, 2011, a group of six House Democrats led by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and House Education and Labor Committee Ranking Member George Miller (D-Calif.) sent President Obama a document providing in substantial detail many of the issues Colombia would have to address before any FTA should be considered. The document contained eight requirements related to ending violence against unionists; 15 requirements related to enforcement and prosecution; and five related to labor law reform. In sum, there were 28 requirements in the McGovern-Miller document. The fundamental principles included the need for a real change in conditions on the ground, not just paper changes to Colombian laws (ending violence against unionists and other rights defenders, prosecution of massive backlog of impunity cases related to past murders, etc); the need for change to be sustained before any FTA would be appropriate; and the importance of enforcement of commitments to change.