Talking Points: Colombia’s Horrific Labor Abuses Are Among a Long List of Reasons to Oppose the Colombia FTA

By Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

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1. Colombian government ties to right-wing paramilitaries and union murders exposed

  • Colombia remains the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a trade unionist. In fact, the number of murdered unionists in the last three years – 52 in 2008, 47 in 2009, and 51 in 2010 – has exceeded the 39 killed in 2007, the year the FTA was signed. The 2008-2010 was the period when the Colombian government was under maximum scrutiny. Indeed, in every year, more unionists are murdered in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined. According to Colombia’s National Labor School, the leading source on the topic, nearly 2,860 trade unionists have been killed since 1986. Only six percent of these cases have resulted in any convictions. This is roughly a 94 percent impunity ratio.
  • During the presidency of Álvaro Uribe alone (August 7, 2002 – August 7, 2010), nearly 570 unionists were murdered – one third of these were highly visible union leaders. Juan Manuel Santos, Uribe’s former defense minister, became president in August 2010, and at least 19 additional unionist murders have occurred since that time.
  • President Barack Obama confronted GOP candidate Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the last presidential debate over these outrages. McCain said, “Senator Obama, who has never traveled south of our border, opposes the Colombia Free Trade Agreement… Free trade with Colombia is something that’s a no-brainer. But maybe you ought to travel down there and visit them and maybe you could understand it a lot better.” Obama responded, “Actually, I understand it pretty well. The history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders have been targeted for assassination on a fairly consistent basis and there have not been prosecutions… we have to stand for human rights and we have to make sure that violence isn’t being perpetrated against workers who are just trying to organize for their rights.”