Death Stalks U.S. Trade Partner
As U.S. lawmakers inch closer to enacting a long-stalled free trade agreementwith Colombia, the deal’s proponents have cited the safer atmosphere for Colombian union leaders and workers as a primary reason for finally pushing the deal through.
But for Juan Cambindo, a Colombian sugar cane worker and union leader, the news of significant progress has come as a great surprise. Like many other Colombians, Cambindo says he has had his life threatened because of union ties. He first learned of his new and improved lot while watching television.
“The United States was talking about how our situation has gotten better,” Cambindo, who visited Washington last week to voice his opposition to the deal, told HuffPost through a translator (video below). “But that’s not true. Our situation continues to be bad, and it’s getting worse.”
Colombia remains by far the world’s most dangerous country for union leaders and members. Nearly 3,000 activists have been murdered there in the last 25 years, with convictions resulting in a paltry 6 percent of the cases. According to the non-profit labor rights group U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project, 51 Colombian unionists were killed last year and 338 received death threats. The country generally accounts for about half of the unionist murders worldwide these days.
Prodded by American labor groups, some Democrats have voiced concern over the bloodshed and managed to hold up the trade agreement since President Bush ratified it in 2007, alongside similar deals struck with Panama and South Korea. All three agreements have yet to gain Congressional approval, but President Obama, who opposed the Colombia deal in 2008, has tweaked them and indicated that he wants them to move forward. The House is expected to vote on the deals before the August recess.