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Clock Stopped on FTA; So Far to Go on Human Rights in Colombia

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Last week, the full House of Representatives approved a resolution to remove “fast track” language from the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement by a vote of 224 to 195. See how your representative voted. Thank your member of Congress if they voted to “stop the clock” on the trade pact. If they voted no, let them know your concerns about the Colombia FTA.

Recent trade agreements are often criticized for encouraging a “race to the bottom” that favors the rights of corporations over the rights of workers and small farmers at home and abroad. While we aren’t trade experts, as human rights advocates, there are two main reasons we oppose this trade agreement:

  1. Violence against trade unionists continues to occur with near total impunity. So far this year, at least 17 trade unionists have been assassinated. Since 1991, more than 2,200 unionists have been killed and, in the vast majority of these cases, the murderers have not been brought to justice. One trade unionist killed is one too many. The right to organize is a fundamental right that workers everywhere must be able to exercise without fear of being killed.
  2. This FTA will harm small farmers, internally displaced persons, Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples, the very people who have already suffered so much in the armed conflict. Without the proper protections in place, small farmers could become internally displaced or forced to grow coca instead of licit food crops. Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples, whose collective territories are often rich in natural resources, could be violently displaced from their lands as armed actors move to make way for export-oriented industries. Read the Washington Office on Latin America's concerns and materials from Witness for Peace.

With the Colombian Embassy and the Bush Administration waging a no-holds-barred campaign to win support for the trade pact, it’s important that members of Congress hear your human rights concerns. We must tell our representatives to vote NO on the U.S.-Colombia FTA until true progress is made on human rights. To see our human rights concerns, check out So Far to Go: Human Rights in Colombia.

On Monday, Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) were joined by 61 of their colleagues in sending a letter to President Uribe about the recent wave of violence and threats against human rights defenders following the March 6th protest against violence in Colombia. The letter calls on President Uribe to take concrete actions to ensure government officials stop making statements that put the lives of human rights defenders in jeopardy. Thanks to all of you who made calls and sent emails—it wouldn’t have been possible to send this strong message in support of human rights defenders without your efforts!

Finally, churches and activists in the U.S. and Colombia are preparing to commemorate the third annual Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia on April 27 and 28, 2008. Check out www.peaceincolombia.org or email Travis at twheeler@lawg.org to learn what you can do to get your congregation and community involved.