“I cannot understand why the Prime Minister, who has called China on their human rights violations, is prepared to sign agreements with a country that sees trade unionists murdered at a rate more than the entire world experiences in total, or with a country where the drug trade, and the paramilitary forces have a grip on a $6 billion illegal business,” said CUPE National President Paul Moist.
Moist, who toured Colombia last summer with other Canadian public sector union leaders, is suitably convinced that the Colombian government does not respect human or labour rights.
But while United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and U.S. President-elect Barack Obama have expressed concern over free trade with Colombia, Harper is siding with President Bush, who is pushing for a free trade deal with Colombia before he leaves office.
Harper says that workers’ protection has been written into the trade deals. But whether these stipulations will be enforced is another story. “More labour leaders are killed every year in Colombia than the rest of the world combined. And 474 labour leaders have been killed since Uribe took power in 2002,” said Moist.
The Colombian government has consistently failed to investigate these murders, largely because most are committed by government-linked paramilitary death squads. The paramilitaries work on behalf of powerful land owners, the right-wing political establishment, and even some transnational corporations.
“I know CUPE will remain aligned with Colombian workers and we will not stop seeking the justice they so very much deserve. The Harper government has made a terrible, heartless decision in signing a trade agreement with Colombia,” said Moist.