PITTSBURGH, April 7, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The 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). 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. A record 52 unionists were killed in Colombia last year. Since 1986, only five 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.
These 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.
USW President Leo W. Gerard decries the proposed Colombia FTA as a shameful reflection on America's values. "These most recent killings put into grave doubt whether the Colombian government and its military are truly prepared to reform as the Administration presumes. 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 Trade Agreement."
The USW vows to continue its years-long fight to help improve conditions for workers in Colombia. Gerard emphasizes, "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."
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 the 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."
USW President Gerard said, "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. 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. For more information: www.usw.org/.