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Obama embraces trade agreement with Colombia, despite union opposition

April 8, 2011

On Wednesday, President Obama announced that the US would move forward with trade relations with Colombia even though human rights organizations and unions opposed this policy.

The concern for many unions and human rights organizations has been centered around the brutal campaign to murder union organizers. The Killer Coke Campaign has been documenting these union murders for years, especially since many of the union organizers are in Coca Cola plants. But the AFL-CIO also produced a substantial report in 2008 entitled Workers’ Rights, Violence and Impunity in Colombia.

It is because of this recent history of targeted violence against union organizers in Colombia that unions and human rights groups opposed the current trade relations policy with Colombia. The Obama administration says that this new agreement will address the human right abuses, but AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in response, “The action plan does not go nearly far enough in laying out concrete benchmarks for progress in the areas of violence and impunity, nor does it address many of the ways in which Colombian labor law falls short of international standards.”

The Latin American Working Group (LAWG) agrees that the US/Colombia plan does not adequately address human rights abuses. “We could see the same shocking numbers of murders of trade unionists when the FTA is implemented, and there’s nothing in this agreement or the accord itself that would stop it from going forward,” said Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the Latin America Working Group. Fifty-one trade unionists were killed in Colombia in 2010, making Colombia still the world leader in anti-union violence.”

The LAWG response also states, “The plan includes nothing about gross human rights violations by the Colombian armed forces, except in the cases of anti-union violence. The Santos Administration has yet to make advances in bringing to justice those responsible for more than 3,000 civilians murdered, allegedly by members of

Colombia’s own armed forces. And even those who have been convicted of these crimes are often kept in detention centers that appear more like a luxury resort than a prison.”

Not everyone in the US was displeased with the Obama administration. The National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce applauded the President’s decision.

In an article from The Hill it states, “The AFL-CIO expressed deep disappointment with the decision, which pits Obama against a core part of his political base the same week he announced his 2012 reelection campaign.

It is interesting that the online publication refers to unions as part of the President’s base, when there is little evidence that the Obama administration has done much for working people or union specifically. The President has completely ignored the Employee Free Choice Act despite his election promise to pass it in the first year. The administration seems poised to enact a NAFTA-style policy with South Korea, which contradicts his campaign promise of revisiting NAFTA with the intent of re-writing it. The President has had no problem bailing out Wall St., bailing out the auto industry (on condition that the UAW make larger concessions) and continue Bush style tax cuts for the rich.

Add to this the announcement from Monday that the Obama camp plans to break their own record and raise $1 billion dollars for the 2012 re-election campaign and one wonders why working people would endorse the President. If one looks at who the top contributors to the Obama campaign in 2008 were you can see why he is more pro-business than pro-worker.


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