The United Steelworkers (USW) is both “disappointed and outraged” to learn
that the Obama Administration has apparently reached an agreement with
Colombia over a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
According to a statement release today, the USW has opposed the FTA with
Colombia ever since President Bush signed it with Colombian President Alvaro
Uribe back in 2007.
“The reality on the ground in Colombia has not changed since the agreement
was first signed,” the statement said. “A record 52 unionists were killed in
Colombia last year. Since 1986, only 5 percent of more than 2,800 union
killings have been prosecuted, making impunity the standard for justice in
the killings. This year alone, six unionists have been killed in Colombia,
including two in the past week, even as the U.S. and Colombia were
finalizing their new accord over the FTA.”
The two most recent victims, Hector Orozco and Gildardo Garcia of the
agricultural union known as Association of Peasant Workers of Tolima, were
killed in a heavily militarized zone and were in fact threatened by the
official Colombian army just before their killing, the USW said.
“These most recent killings put into grave doubt whether the Colombian
government and its military are truly prepared to reform as the
Administration presumes,” USW International President Leo Gerard said. “The
fact is, despite the newly negotiated ‘Action Plan,’ the situation in
Colombia has not changed, and therefore, should not be rewarded with a Free
The USW vowed to continue its years’ long fight to help improve conditions
for workers in Colombia. “We do so in solidarity with our brothers and
sisters in the Colombian labor movement who are taking to the streets today
to show their continued opposition to the FTA,” Gerard said.
The Confederation of Workers (CUT), Colombia’s largest labor federation, is
protesting the U.S.-Colombia FTA deal, focusing on the continued killing of
unionists with impunity. The Human Rights leader of CUT, Luis Venegas, said,
“We do not understand how you can talk about a plan to approve the FTA with
the United States when these conditions persist.”
“The unionists in Colombia are the best judge of what make their lives
better, allows them to share in the fruits of their labor and pursue their
internationally-recognized rights without fear,” Gerard said. “We plan to
continue working with them to ensure that outcome.”
According to the USW, the rate of unionized workers in Colombia is 3.5
percent and collective bargaining benefits just 70,000 people out of a
workforce of 20 million, one of the lowest rates in the world.