Colombia Offers Free Trade in Death-A Canadian Perspective

by Kevin Neish  [Kevin is a Canadian human rights activist and unionist who went on an Alliance for Global Justice delegation to Colombia in 2009.  This article is reprinted from Straight.Com – Vancouver’s Online News Source]

The ink is barely dry on the Canada-Colombia free-trade deal, which Stephen Harper signed with great fanfare and promises on August 15, and its effects are seemingly already being felt by the poor of Colombia. Unfortunately the impact is negative.

The very next day, while Harper was still being wined and dined in Bogota, Colombia, a farm-workers’ union leader, Rafael Andrés González Garnica, was murdered in broad daylight in Cartagena, only a block from a police station. Three days later, human-rights lawyer Edgar Montilla was brazenly wounded by assassins on a highway near Pasto.

Then on September 1, Juan Antonio Ariza Carrillo, president of the Displaced Populations Organization of Colombia, disappeared without a trace and has likely been murdered by a death squad.

The oppression reached a frightening new level on September 3 with the disappearance of a prominent political-prisoner lawyer, Luis Eduardo Manotas. He managed to make one last desperate cell phone call, shouting that state policemen were arresting him, then his phone went dead. The Colombian government claims to have no knowledge of Manotas’s whereabouts.  [AFGJ Editor’s Note:  Since this article was written, Manotas was released by Colombian authorities after having been held in comunicado for several days, detained arbitrarily, with no reasons given.]

All this murder and mayhem happened in less than a month and this only includes the important leaders who were attacked. The murder of simple peasants and workers goes unreported.

Sadly this kind of carnage is nothing new. The Colombian farm-workers’ union FENSUAGRO has alone lost over 15,000 members to murder since its inception in 1976. Today, Colombian prisons hold over 7,500 trade-union and political prisoners in barbaric, suicide-inducing conditions.

One of those prisoners is FENSUAGRO union researcher, sociologist, and filmmaker Liliany Patricia Obando, who toured Canada in 2006. She was subsequently arrested on her return to Colombia and charged with “rebellion”, for supposedly raising funds for terrorism while in Canada, which was a laughable surprise to the churches, NGOs, and unions who sponsored her visit here.

It was likely not a coincidence that she was just about to release a detailed report on her union’s thousands of murdered members when she was suddenly arrested. She has spent more than three years in prison, without being convicted of anything and with no sign of a proper trial in sight, let alone ever being released.

The “crime” of all these activists was to nonviolently lobby and struggle for the rights of poor peasant farmers and workers, who are being dispossessed of their land and human rights by rich Colombian oligarchs and foreign corporations, many of which are Canadian. These companies are now cashing in on the sale of Colombia’s oil, coal, palm oil, cut flowers, and various minerals to Canada via this new free-trade deal.

Perhaps Prime Minister Harper would be good enough to phone his new friend, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, and ask him what happened to Rafael, Edgar, Juan, Luis, and Liliany and the countless thousands other victims of state-sponsored oppression. Canadians should be ashamed, as our economy is now directly benefiting from Colombia’s bloody war against her own people. Our first-world lifestyle shouldn’t be paid for with the blood of the third world.