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Liberals waffling on Colombia; vigilance urged as Uribe plans visit to Canada

Civil society and labour groups in Canada and Colombia celebrated a small victory last week when the Harper Conservatives pulled Bill C-23, ratification legislation for the Canada–Colombia Free Trade Agreement, from the order paper without any indication when they would put it back.

Colombia President Alvaro Uribe

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe

The Liberals, it appears, are split down the middle on whether or not to support the agreement based on the continuing human rights disaster on the ground in Colombia. This, and heavy attacks from the NDP and Bloc in the House of Commons last Monday, have forced the Conservatives to rethink their strategy and we may not see the Bill again until the fall (if we’re lucky).

But the NDP and other groups opposed to the CCFTA, including the Council of Canadians, are encouraging continued vigilance. This past week, Liberal Trade Critic Scott Brison renegged on a promise to hear from Yessica Hoyos Morales, the daughter of a murdered trade unionist in Colombia, at the international trade committee on Parliament Hill. According to the Canada–Colombia Project blog, “Brison voted to end the Standing Committee’s session 30 minutes early so as not to hear her testimony.”

But the committee did make room for a presentation from Colombian Foreign Minister Bermúde.

“Here, we’ve found unconditional support from the government of Prime Minister Harper. We’ve found a Liberal Pary that is, let’s say, the principal opposition party, with a desire to support the agreement but with a few worries in a few areas,” said Bermúdez after his meeting with Conservatives and Liberals last week.

This “tells us who the Liberals are willing to talk to, how they intend to ‘investigate’ the situation in Colombia, and that they continue to send out … how do we put this… ‘mixed signals’ to the Canadian public,” according to the Canada–Colombia Project.


The trade committee will also hear from Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in the afternoon of Wednesday, June 10 — right after a presentation he’s giving that morning to the elite Conference of Montreal, an annual gathering of some of the world’s most powerful and influential economic players and corporations.

“The International Economic Forum of the Americas/ Conference of Montreal is committed to heighten knowledge and awareness of the major issues of economic globalization, with a particular emphasis on the relations between the Americas and other continents,” according to its website. Like other closed-door business meetings, an objective of the annual meeting is “To give its participants access to privileged information while fostering free and extensive discussions on various aspects of economy, with contributors and experts from among the best qualified.”

If Uribe is among the best qualified and worthy of a distinguished speaking opportunity, then it is a depraved gathering indeed.

The following is from NDP Trade Critic Peter Julian’s latest dispatch on the Canada–Colombia FTA process on the Hill:

President Uribe was identified in a recently de-classified 1991 US Defence Intelligence Agency briefing as one of the top supporters of the drug trade in Colombia. According to that briefing, “Uribe (is) dedicated to collaboration with the Medillin cartel at high government levels. Uribe has worked for the Medillin cartel and is a close personal friend of (notorious druglord) Pablo Escobar.”

Uribe has also been connected with massacres, including one in El Aro, in Antioquia Province, in which dozens of people were butchered. He has never been brought to trial for that crime, though there is evidence and testimony that there were direct ties between the then-Governor’s administration and the massacre.
And most recently, his administration has been engulfed in scandals, including the use of secret police to monitor Supreme Court justices and opposition politicians, and influence-peddling that members of his family have been purportedly engaged in, where they are using Colombian state assets in order to further enrich themselves.

“With all of those appalling reasons to not form a privileged trading relationship with the President tied to murderous paramilitary thugs and drug lords, one would wonder why the Conservative Government is pushing ahead with this deal, said Julian, but it’s very clear that no matter how bad President Uribe is, he is in ideological kinship with Stephen Harper. That’s all that counts for Liberals and Conservatives.”

Brison has nowhere to hide on this. The human rights case against persuing a free trade agreement with the Uribe administration is overwhelming. The evidence that the FTA will wreak havoc on Colombian farmers (among other industrial sectors) when Canadian imports flood the market is also significant and needs to be addressed in a full human rights impact assessment before any deal is finally ratified. Brison said as much in the House of Commons last Monday and must be held accountable for that statement.

The Liberals also risk moving way ahead of the Americans if they support this deal. Last week, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke told the Americas Business Forum that Colombia needs to address the violence against union leaders before the Americans will entertain taking their own FTA to Congress for ratification.

Meanwhile, groups in Montreal and Ottawa, including the Quebec network S.O.S. Colombie, the Canadian Labour Congress and Council of Canadians are mobilizing for actions against Uribe when he visits Canada next month. We’ll post details on our website soon.