We must do what we can to oppose EU-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

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Friday 27 June 2014, 01pm

By Mandy La Combre
Mandate National Executive Committee member

THE EU-Colombia Free Trade Agreement will be brought before the Dail in the next couple of weeks and it will not be beneficial to the vast majority of workers in Colombia – despite what many politicians might say.

Colombia boasts some of the richest natural resources in the world but also has some of  worst human rights violations. These violations form a part of everyday life in Colombia for anyone that dares to speak out against the regime.

The implementation of this Free Trade Agreement could worsen the human rights situation, escalate the conflict and see the deterioration of the already precarious working conditions of millions of people.

It is well documented that Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be if you are a trade unionist.

Violence is used to repress labour organising and freedom of speech.

In the last 15 years, almost 3,000 trade unionists have been murdered. More trade unionists, journalists and teachers are killed in Colombia than anywhere else in the world. These assassinations are carried out by the Colombian military or right-wing paramilitary death squads.

The root of the problem lies in a war that has been raging between the Government and left-wing rebel groups for more than 50 years. This conflict was sparked by Colombia’s extreme social and economic inequalities that sees 65% of its population of 47 million live in poverty.

This ongoing violence has meant that between 4.9 million and 5.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, resulting in one of the worst population displacements in the world.

These ‘forced migrations’ take place in areas that are not politically active (as shown in their electoral participation) but are very socially active (protests, demonstrations) proving the high social costs of the displacements. Especially targeted are those organising for the rights of indigenous people, peasants and farmworkers. Land occupancy has been driven by a focus on the needs of foreign markets – but social conflicts (such as workers’ demands) also occur simultaneously.

The culmination of this displacement now sees 1% of the population owning 52% of the land, making Colombia one of the most unequal places in the world.

Trade unionists in particular are targeted. Countless numbers of union activists have simply ‘disappeared’ never to be seen again. In 98% of these crimes no one has ever been brought to justice. The Colombian armed forces cannot be trusted, they work alongside the paramilitaries. These facts are hidden by the Colombian Government who insist such union activists were somehow involved in guerrilla activity.

Ordinary men, women and children are the principal victims of violence in Colombia. Terror is used to suppress radical political views and ensure that the regime monopolises the wealth of the nation.  There is no clear evidence to suggest that the EU-Colombia FTA will bring about any improvement even though there appears to be a political expectation that somehow this agreement will harness a desire for change.

I am urging all Mandate members to become proactive in opposing the ratification of the EU-Colombia FTA.

Members can do this by writing to their TDs, by joining the Justice for Colombia campaign at justiceforcolombia.org and by signing the petition at http://chn.ge/1q0Rvna

If violence is part of doing business in Colombia, why would the Irish people want to be part of that.

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