Obama sees 'difficulties' with Colombian free trade | National Union of Public and General Employees

Obama sees 'difficulties' with Colombian free trade

'It is important that Colombia pursue a path of rule of law and transparency.'

Washington (2 July 2009) - President Barack Obama says the U.S. is open to a free trade deal with Colombia but he cited "obvious difficulties" related to human rights and labour rights when he met this week with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Obama said following the talks at the White House that some improvement has occurred recently in Colombia and he hopes the two countries can overcome obstacles and "proceed on a free trade agreement."

However, he added:

"There are obvious difficulties involved in the process, and there remains work to do... I commended President Uribe on the progress that has been made in human rights in Colombia and dealing with the killings of labour leaders there. And obviously we've seen a downward trajectory in ... the deaths of (activists with) labour unions, and we've seen improvements when it comes to prosecution of those who are carrying out these blatant human rights offenses."

Obama said Uribe acknowledged there is "more work to be done" and added that the U.S. wants to cooperate with him "to continue to improve both the rights of organized labour in Colombia and to protect both labour and civil rights leaders there."

In a question and answer session with reporters later, Obama added:

"... [It] is important that Colombia pursue a path of rule of law and transparency. And I know that that is something that President Uribe is committed to doing."

Canada ignores abuses

Unlike the U.S., Canada signed a free trade deal with Colombia last November without insisting on any significant action to deal with horrendous human and labour rights violations in the South American country, including the almost routine murder of trade union leaders. Legislation was introduced in March to implement the agreement. It is currently before Parliament.

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has written to Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff urging him to oppose the legislation, arguing that it would be "deeply inappropriate" for Canada to implement such a deal given the abuses still occurring in Colombia.

"I am asking that your party join with the New Democratic Party and Bloc Québécois in opposing this agreement," Clancy said in his letter.

"I am sure, given your background in international human rights issues, that you appreciate the severity of the human rights crisis in Colombia. The scope and magnitude of the violence is deeply troubling and the suffering of the Colombian people immense," he argued.

"Very little of the violence that occurs in Colombia is related to 'military' objectives. Attacks are primarily perpetrated against unarmed campesinas, workers, and the leaders of trade unions and popular social movements. Despite the assurances of the Colombian government that the situation is improving the violence continues."

Repeated condemnations

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has repeatedly condemned the Colombian government for failing to address human and labour rights abuses, including the ongoing murder and detention of trade union leaders and members.

The most most recent ITUC news release, issued June 22, condemned the murder of two more trade unions in the Arauca region of Colombia, Pablo Rodríguez Garavito and Jorge Humberto Echaverri Garro. Both were teachers affiliated the Asociación de Educadores de Arauca (ASEDAR).


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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