Passage of this NAFTA-style deal signed by George W. Bush stalled for five years over outrage about Colombia’s horrific labor rights situation. President Obama then relied on congressional GOP to enact it over Democrats’ objections. But Obama’s “Labor Action Plan” proved meaningless and unionist assassinations continue with impunity and a U.S. trade deal.
On November 22, 2006, the Bush administration signed the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) but its congressional passage was delayed because of concerns about Colombia’s horrific record of assassinations of labor union leaders and concerns that the agricultural provisions in the agreement could increase rural poverty and lead to an increase in drug trafficking and violence. On April 6, 2011, the Obama administration, which had pledged to fix our unfair trade policy and renegotiate NAFTA, announced it would push Congress to consider the NAFTA-style trade pact with Colombia. The Obama administration pledged that its “Labor Action Plan” and the Labor Chapter of the agreement would result in an end to unionist violence in Colombia. Unions in the United States and Colombia and most congressional Democrats opposed passage of the deal. The deal passed narrowly with most Democrats opposing the Democratic president and went into effect on May 15, 2012. Within months after passage, the unionist assassinations, which had slowed during the period the agreement faced scrutiny in Congress, resumed and the number even grew.
More than five years after the Obama administration announced its Labor Action Plan (LAP) with Colombia to improve Colombia’s labor protections, which facilitated passage of the controversial pact, the LAP failed to alter the on-the-ground reality of anti-union repression in Colombia. Since the U.S.- Colombia FTA has been in force, 113 Colombian unionists have been assassinated, 72 unionists have survived assassination attempts, and 1,089 death threats have been levied against unionists, according to the data relied upon under the LAP. Of the 113 unionist assassinations, perpetrators have been brought to justice in only 14 percent of the cases, according to the Colombian government’s own data. During the debate over the Colombia FTA, Colombian unions and human rights organizations had predicted that the LAP would not alter on-the-ground realities. In a report on the third anniversary of the LAP, Colombian unions concluded that the LAP “was taken by the Colombian government as a step toward unfreezing the FTA with the United States rather than as an institutional mechanism to promote real protection of the labor and union rights that Colombian workers have lacked for so long.”
In addition, violent mass displacements of Colombians have continued under the Colombia FTA, adding to the more than six million Colombians who have been displaced amidst Colombia’s wrenching internal displacement crisis. The U.S. Department of Labor filed a report that found that the Colombian government has “failed to effectively enforce its labor laws related to the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining; has failed to adopt and maintain in its statutes, regulations, and practices, the fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining; and has failed to comply with the procedural guarantees enumerated in the labor chapter” of the U.S. – Colombia free trade agreement.
Despite this, no enforcement actions have been taken under the agreement.