This year, LAWG’s Colombia team brought together a coalition of labor, human rights, faith-based, and environmental groups to build a national grassroots movement to oppose the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA). While this FTA ultimately did pass on October 12th, 2011, we are proud of the work that everyone involved did to generate debate about the problems with this trade deal and to convince many members of Congress to vote for human rights rather than corporate interests. Click here to find out how your members of Congress voted and hold them accountable!
Just through the participation of LAWG’s activist base alone, we collected 11,695 signatures on a petition to President Obama, sent over 13,000 emails to Congress, and made hundreds of phone calls right before the vote. By connecting with other groups for fair trade, we were able to multiply our collective voice by tens of thousands. In many major cities, people came together to stage vigils in the streets, which grabbed the attention of local and national media. They spoke out at town hall events and met with their members of Congress when they came back to the district for recess. While LAWG made videos and wrote articles for sites like the Huffington Post, activists across the country published op-eds and letters to the editor in their local newspapers.
Meanwhile, in DC, LAWG and our partners pounded the marble halls of Congress. We brought Colombian unionists, human rights defenders, and small-scale farmers to meet with undecided members of Congress, educating them about the devastating affect that this trade deal would have on the lives of so many Colombians. We displayed the art exhibit Remember Me: Voices of the Silenced in the U.S. House of Representatives to let the testimonies of survivors of Colombia’s conflict speak for themselves. Then, right before the vote, we provided our congressional allies with talking points as well as stories and photos to use in their final arguments.
And in the end, we made a difference. During the debate, we watched as representatives and senators stood on the floor of Congress and told the stories of union leaders who have been killed in Colombia, of families who have been devastated by the conflict, of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities who are struggling to stay on their ancestral lands. We convinced 82% of House Democrats to vote against this unfair trade agreement. This represents the largest percentage of House Democrats voting against a Democratic president on trade in history, and it sent a message to President Obama: no more trade without human rights.
Missed the action? Check out this powerful speech by Representative Luis Gutiérrez in which he honors the lives of two murdered Colombian activists: Alejandro José Peñata, a teacher and unionist, and Ana Fabricia Córdoba, a dynamic Afro-Colombian social leader who struggled for the rights of the displaced.
To read the inspiring speech that Representative Jim McGovern gave during the debate, click here. LAWG sends a big thank you to Rep. McGovern for his tireless efforts to oppose this agreement, as well as to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who “stopped the clock” on this FTA in 2008 and came out against it last week. Thanks also to Representatives Sandy Levin, Mike Michaud, George Miller, Hank Johnson, and John Lewis, Senators Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders, and all the other members of Congress who chose to speak out for human rights during this critical debate.
Although the fact that it passed was upsetting, we were encouraged in the week afterwards when we received messages from our partners in Colombia thanking us for what we’ve done to keep this FTA off the table since it was introduced by the Bush Administration five years ago. By delaying it so long, they said, we pressured the Colombian government to clean up its record on human rights—and they have made some good promises. However, the struggle does not end here.
In the months ahead, we will focus our efforts on making sure that both the U.S. and Colombian governments keep their word to support communities, unionists, small-scale farmers, and others whose livelihoods and safety may now be at greater risk than ever before. We look forward to working with both old and new partners to stand by our brothers and sisters in Colombia as they face these challenges and continue their pursuit of peace and justice.