The Colombia Free Trade Agreement opens Colombia to foreign corporations and investment, creating an improved environment for the exploitation of natural resources and labor. Union leaders, activists, farmers, indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples are paying the price – in blood.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has restarted talks with the country’s main guerilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – for which he’s received laudatory press outside of the country, and a more cautious response inside it.
The government and FARC representatives will hold their first meeting October 8 in Oslo. London’s Financial Times called Santos “a strategic thinker with canny political antennas,” and praised him for establishing “business-friendly policies” leading to economic growth fueled by rising foreign investment.
Colombia’s key business-friendly policy has been the negotiation of a free trade agreement with the United States, begun by Santos’ predecessor, Alvaro Uribe. In May, US President Barack Obama gave Colombia a clean bill of health, and allowed the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement to go into effect. Opening Colombia to foreign corporations and investment, however, has had a bloody price, paid by its union leaders, farmers and social movement activists. Uribe and Santos promised the treaty signaled an end to the killings, but attacks on movement leaders continue, nonetheless.
SUAREZ, COLOMBIA – The Colombian military maintains an armed fort, called a “trincheras,” in the middle of Suarez, near the damn on the Rio Salvajina. When the river was damned in 1984, thousands of families were displaced, and the army was accused of assassinating local activists in order to force them to leave. Since then, the area has had a permanent military presence.
Before the treaty was signed, businesses operating in Colombia (including US corporations like Exxon and Drummond Coal), already had duty-free access to the US market for most goods. When the agreement went into effect, US exporters of manufactured goods and agricultural products gained duty-free access to the market in Colombia.
US miners lost jobs when Drummond Coal began supplying the generating stations of Alabama Power with Colombian coal. Now Colombian farmers and workers are suffering the same displacing fate as US exports flood Colombia. In addition to opening the Colombian market, the agreement also facilitates investment in large mines and other megaprojects, leading to the uprooting of rural communities, and the privatization of public services.
The consequences of these neoliberal policies have been devastating for many sections of Colombian society – from Afro-Colombian communities, to trade unionists. In January, three Afro-Colombian organizations joined with the Washington Office on Latin America to write to the US Congress, outlining the dangers their communities face in the province of Cauca.