Saturday, November 10, 2007

Free Trade with Colombia

The Washington Post is on a roll. First, there was the editorial about how only leftists criticize Plan Colombia and so we ought to duplicate it in Mexico. Now the editors call for passage of the U.S.-Colombia FTA. Unlike the Bush administration, which says we need to pass it or Hugo Chávez will get a PR boost, the WaPo argues that it’s OK if thousands of people are killed, just as long as they represent a small percentage of the total dead.

Among the tens of thousands of people killed in Colombia since 1991, 2,245 were labor union members, according to the country's National Labor College, known by its Spanish initials, ENS. (Of these victims, about 500 were union "leaders.") This sounds like a lot of people -- and it is, in the sense that even one murder is too many. Lately, though, labor union members have been less likely to be murdered than other Colombians. In 2006, union members made up 4.8 percent of the labor force, or just under 2 percent of the total population, of 43.5 million, according to ENS. Yet of the 17,206 murder victims in Colombia that year, only 70 -- or 0.4 percent -- were union members.

It ends by saying let’s not let “cold-case” files ruin a trade agreement. So sure, lots of them die, but hey, they’re a drop in the murder bucket! If I were a wavering member of Congress, I’d need a lot more than this to convince me.


Anonymous,  8:48 AM  

I'm not really sure it takes much more than this evidence to convince a member of congress of anything.

Anonymous,  9:34 AM  

Greg, What do you think of this specific FTA. Should it be voted?

Tambopaxi 10:12 AM  

Still, Greg, the WP stats are interesting, assuming they're accurate. So, first, is it true that only 70 labor leaders/members were killed in 2006? If true, that's a startlingly low figure, especially in comparison with the rest of the butcher bill in that violent country.

Many groups oppose the TLC on the (implicit) grounds that the Government of Colombia is somehow complicit in some (not all) of those labor deaths. I haven't seen any arguments against the TLC on the basis of those other 17,000 deaths. If opponents of the TLC don't mention the whole bloody lot, are they saying that labor folks are somehow better than the rest and that 70 deaths are all that's needed to cancel the TLC?

In comparison, has anyone calculated the number of potential legimate jobs - and potential union members (vs. coke growers, etc.) the TLC might generate in Colombia?

I think the WP's got the right perspective. Yes, each and every death in Colombia is tragic and lamentable. But in cold, hard, national interest terms, is it really desirable to alienate a country of 43+ million (one of the few that still sees us as a friend in the region, btw) because 70 people died? I know it sounds tough, but I'd say no, i.e., the TLC should be ratified.

Justin Delacour 11:34 AM  

But Tambopaxi, you're completely overlooking the arguments of any good labor democrat. The issue is that "free trade" agreements with countries in which basic labor standards are not respected have a race-to-the-bottom effect. As long as big business can set up shop wherever it pleases and treat labor however it pleases, there is no end to the downward pressures on the wages of low-skilled labor throughout the world.

Moreover, your side of this debate has never provided any serious evidence that these types of agreements enhance economic development. There isn't much evidence of that from Mexico, for example.

Lastly, the notion that the killings of 70 Colombian labor leaders in 2006 is somehow low is completely absurd. Colombia is generally recognized to be the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists.

Tambopaxi 12:50 PM  


As you can see my comments were limited to Greg's concern about the dead labor folks. The chances are that the government was directly involved in few or none of those deaths. That said, Greg's concern (and Adam Issacson's too) appears to relate to the "cold case" aspects of those deaths. On that, I don't see enough info in either blog (Greg's or Adam's) that indicates that exactly what the government is doing or not on the cases. The comments indicate that the cases have been closed but on what basis, I don't know.

On your points regarding TLC's in general, I assume you saw my thoughts in your blog regarding approval of the Costa Rica TLC by the Ticos, so you know my general thinking on the TLC's. I believe they can be beneficial to LA countries but since the Latinos are always the junior partners on these arrangements with the U.S., they do have to be quite careful regarding their own interests, especially their ag interests, due to U.S. ag subsidies.....

Justin Delacour 1:51 PM  

The chances are that the government was directly involved in few or none of those deaths.

The claim is dubious, Tambopaxi. As the Washington Post reported in April, "a clandestine paramilitary operative named to DAS [Colombia's Administrative Security Department] by Noguera [Uribe's former intelligence chief] said in a recent interview that the intelligence service compiled lists of union members, along with details about their security, and handed them over to a coalition of paramilitary groups known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia."

But whether or not the Uribe government is directly involved is not the only issue here. Any state has a responsibility to prosecute the murderers of trade unionists. The Colombian state has failed to do so, largely because the Colombian state has longstanding ties with the paramilitary groups that carry out most such killings. The systematic failure to prosecute the murderers has permitted paramilitaries to wage open season on trade unionists.

Your argument is a bit like saying that the police in the film Mississippi Burning aren't responsible for the killings or beatings of blacks and civil rights activists because it's the Klu Klux Klan that actually carried out much of the violence. Never mind that the police were not only in bed with the Klan but often handed the victims over to the Klan. Never mind that the police turned a blind eye when the killings and beatings occurred.

Sorry, but your argument is just thoroughly untenable, Tambopaxi. Uribe is the paramilitaries' president. To turn a blind eye to that fact is to be complicit in the violence itself.

Greg Weeks 2:26 PM  

There is no doubt that the Colombian government is not prosecuting very many cases, and Uribe’s ties to paramilitaries are well known. The U.S. militarized approach to Colombia has also exacerbated the problem.

I am not opposed to free trade agreements at all times, but Adam Isacson’s argument, which Justin is also making, makes sense—if you are afraid to form a union or attempt collective bargaining because you might die, then there is a serious problem with trade. As for anonymous’ question about whether I would want it to pass, I would say that if I were a member of Congress, I would vote no unless I had some assurance (in what form, I’m not sure) that the Colombian judicial system was going to protect union organizers and, yes, even go into those “cold case” files.

Anonymous,  8:32 PM  

Thank you Greg

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP