El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — The Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) will likely raise its head in Congress this summer. Proponents and opponents have begun dusting off their arguments for the hearings. Those in favor of the CFTA paint rosy pictures. Others see this commerce bill as a major disaster.
A three-member panel assembled on July 14 at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in downtown Portland to discuss the CFTA. They found little positive to say about it.
The trio — Vanessa Kritzer, John Walsh, and Arthur Stamoulis — all brought their measure of expertise to the table.
Concurrent with the panel’s report, an art exhibit at the church through August 1 — “Remember Me” — stood as reminder of the estimated 70,000 men, women, and children killed in partisan battles over the last 20 years in Colombia.
Kritzer, representing the Latin American Working Group, estimated that the CFTA will reduce income for small farmers by 50 percent.
She reminded the audience of the U.S. government’s objectives in reducing cocaine and violence. Sending weapons and poison-laden crop duster planes for 10 years, she reported, resulted in no change in the amount of cocaine produced. On the other hand, the lethal crop sprays had poisoned many children.
At the same time, Kritzer said, paramilitary groups — both left-wing and right-wing — had been “pushing people off their lands.”
These lands, with rich soils and valuable minerals, she said, become inviting targets. “When industry comes in, they want these lands,” she said. “Right-wingers pair with corporations to take the lands. They kill or scare people to clear the way to land takeover.”
Some groups, she reported, believe they will become extinct.
Walsh said, “Those who stand up for justice — or against injustice — do so at the risk of their lives.” Walsh is the Portland regional vice president of Teamsters Local 767M. He also serves as a Witness for Peace Colombia delegate.
Passage of the CFTA, Walsh said, will mean that poor Colombian workers will have no guarantees and no job security and get fired on the whim of their bosses.
“The same things happen here,” he observed,” but not on the same scale.”
In short, Walsh summarized, “The CFTA means more unemployment and higher profits for corporations.”
Arthur Stamoulis of the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign noted that the Central American Free Trade Agreement “drove a million Mexican farmers off their lands.”
This, a Cato Institute 1995 report claimed, came from Congress giving tens of billions in subsidies to U.S. corporate farmers such as Archer Daniels Midland. “At least 43 percent of ADM’s annual profits are from products heavily subsidized or protected by the American government,” according to the report.
The results in Colombia, Stamoulis said, are that young men become involved in the drug trade, join military groups, or emigrate.
Stamoulis suggested “Congress needs to focus on human rights” when considering CFTA.
Kritzer said that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón talks about rights and returning the land to its original owners, but there is no evidence that he has taken any action.
“We have seen reform on certain things,” she said, but noted that the government seems more interested in showing bodies to convince people that “they were winning the war.”
Art as history
A poster at the entry to the “Remember Me, Voices of the Silenced in Colombia,” summarized the inhumane situation. “The bloody, 60-year conflict in Colombia has touched every village, every church and every family in the war-torn country.” As a result, “In the last two years alone 70,000 people have died — mostly innocent civilians. More than four million have fled the violence, making Colombia home to the second largest internationally displaced population in the world.”
Arguably, the most touching paintings came from children. Helicopters pumping bullets into the heart of the country, parents shot dead in front of their home, a lone gunman pumping bullets into an already dead child.
In summary, the poster said, “We cannot change the painful history of Colombia, but together we can change the future.”