[R-G] Canada (And Colombia FTA): A 'Third Way' or More of the Same?

Anthony Fenton fentona at shaw.ca
Sun Jul 6 09:50:12 MDT 2008

Canada: A 'Third Way' or More of the Same?
  By Augusto Bohórque

On June 7th, 2008, on the official webpage of Canada's Department of  
Foreign Affairs and International Trade, a press release with the  
following title appeared: "Canada Concludes Negotiations of Free Trade  
and Labour and Environmental Cooperation Agreement with Colombia." [1]

Curiously, said negotiation occurred without the knowledge of the vast  
majority of Canadians and Colombians. Canadian Minister of Foreign  
Affairs and International Trade, David Emerson, said that this  
agreement "will help to solidify the efforts of the Colombian  
government to create a more secure, prosperous and equitable  
democracy." [2]

This leads one to ask what kind of democracy Emerson is referring to,  
since these agreements are negotiated in complete secrecy and behind  
the backs of the citizens of both countries?

With this kind of democracy, Canada is showing the world that it  
supports one of the most illegitimate regimes on the face of the  
planet. This has been a well known fact since the first election of  
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, which was obtained thanks to  
the territorial control of paramilitary groups, a widely acknowledged  
and documented scandal known as 'parapolítica,' or paramilitary  

Moreover, the Colombian Constitution was modified in 2006 in order to  
reelect Uribe to a second term, a process that depended on the  
decisive vote of Colombian House Representative Yidis Medina, who  
changed her vote at the last minute in favour of the government  
(according to her own confession given to the parliament through her  
testimony before the Colombian Supreme Court). Colombian media has  
dubbed this latest political scandal the 'Yidis-política.'

[Update: On the evening of  Thursday, June 26, President Uribe called  
a rushed press conference in reaction to the decision by Colombia's  
Supreme Court on the case of Yidis Medina: a guilty verdict. The court  
found that Medina did in fact cast her vote in exchange for political  
favours. She will spend 3 ½ years under house arrest for accepting  
bribes from the president. The Court's statement on the case called  
into question the very legitimacy of the process that led to Uribe's  
re-election. The president responded, on national television, that the  
justices who questioned the re-election process are doing the bidding  
of terrorists and called on the Colombian Congress to schedule a  
national referendum to repeat the 2006 elections.]

State Paramilitarism

"Paramilitarism is a strategy of the state," confessed former  
paramilitary boss Salvatore Mancuso in an interview, a policy of  
which, according to his testimony, he is living proof. [3] Up to the  
time of his confession there appeared to be no problem. The real  
problem arose, rather, when Mancuso began to talk about paramilitarism  
as a strategy of the state for the benefit of transnational capital: a  
strategy that would, on the one hand, guarantee land and cheap labor  
for the implementation of megaprojects through forced displacement;  
and on the other hand, provide the security apparatus necessary for  
the protection of such an excellent comparative advantage.

It was at that point that Mancuso needed to be silenced and was  
subsequently extradited to the United States - not to pay for his  
crimes, which included massacres directed against the Colombian people  
from which multinational corporations directly benefited. The  
extradition of Mancuso halted any hope for the families of the victims  
in receiving their rights to truth and reparations, as US justice will  
only judge him on charges related to narcotrafficking.

Canada also negotiated with a country with one of the world's worst  
human rights record; violence has been perpetrated against human  
rights defenders, members of opposition political parties and social  
movements, trade unionists, students, rural peasants and indigenous  
peoples who are opposed to an illegitimate regime and its policies.  
Today, Uribe is at war with everyone opposed to him, who he has  
conveniently labeled as 'terrorists.'

Colombia: A country without rule of law

Only a few weeks before the closing of negotiations of the Free Trade  
Agreement between the two countries, said to be for the benefit of  
'democracy' in Colombia, Uribe, during a speech at one of the so- 
called 'community consultations,' called from the executive for the  
elimination of the rule of law.

In doing so, Uribe showed the national and international community the  
autocratic character of his government (which is being reinforced  
through the push for Uribe's second re-election, a storm cloud that  
threatens the political atmosphere in Colombia, monopolizing and  
interrupting the balance of powers that is a fundamental aspect of the  
rule of law that constitutes a democracy) and ignores many types of  
autonomies and constitutional rights, including indigenous autonomy,  
the right to due process, the autonomy of universities, and many  
processes in defense of life.

When indigenous peoples demanded that the government comply with the  
agreements and rights which they have been guaranteed, the government,  
through its Minister of Agriculture, labels them as "destabilizing  
elements" and reiterates the president's offer of rewards for the  
heads of indigenous leaders who are fighting pacifically for their  
rights. [4]

In another 'community consultation,' Colombia's 'democratic'  
president, endorsed and supported by Prime Minister Harper, referred  
to opposition Senators as "promoters of terrorists", and ordered the  
General Góme Méndez to "prosecute them and put them in jail." [5]

All of the President's positions are supported by his anti-terrorist  
discourse and a voluntary ignorance of the Colombian Constitution.

The autonomy of universities was also assaulted by the  
authoritarianism of the Executive branch when, on May 29th, President  
Uribe announced that: "The police may enter any university precinct."  
The President has once again 'forgotten' that the autonomy of the  
universities is guaranteed by law. [6]

Canada: A third way or more of the same?

Today, Canada presents itself in Latin America as a 'third way',  
differing from the models offered by the United States and Venezuela.  
Is this true? A look at the Free Trade Agreements being drawn up for  
Latin America may bring one to the conclusion that each new trade  
agreement is progressively more damaging for these countries.

The FTA between Colombia and Canada has been negotiated in secret; but  
one can assume that it is a carbon copy of the FTA signed by Colombia  
and the US, rejected by the US congress for the innumerable violations  
of human rights perpetrated in Colombia by the state.

These agreements function within the discourses of 'development' and  
'win-win situations'. Analyzing this fallacy of development and  
democracy, perhaps through the experience of the North American Free  
Trade Agreement, it is revealed that the Mexico that exists outside  
the bubble of Cancún 'develops' only greater levels of poverty and  

Similarly, Mexican democracy itself has become something of a joke,  
given the inauguration of 'president' Calderon, who was brought to  
power through stolen elections.

With the Canada-Colombia FTA, what is at play is the Canadian  
government's decision to define its foreign policy and what kind of  
development and democracy it is in favour of. By ratifying this FTA,  
Canadians would become complicit in the crimes perpetrated by the  
illegitimate regime of Uribe, Harper's close 'ally'.

The decision to sign the FTA with Colombia for the benefit of private  
interests above the interests of the general public will aggravate the  
dismal situation of hunger, healthcare and education in Colombia,  
exacerbating the known social problems that stem from it.

The logic of accumulation promoted by these agreements is one that  
benefits transnational capital to the detriment of peoples. If this is  
Canada's foreign policy, its people and the world should be made  
aware. By presenting itself as a 'third way', as something better than  
the model offered by the US or Europe, Canada is hiding the true  
meaning of the FTA, as they are all equally damaging and ill-fated for  
the people.

Moreover, the supposed 'good name' of Canada on the world stage is  
being manipulated to push particular readings of development and  
democracy. What do they look like? Well, they are no different than  
those exported by the United States.

Canada, in approving the FTA with Colombia, will have to decide which  
model of 'development' it will promote: development for people, or for  
transnational corporations?

Now more than ever, experience has taught us that this system is  
unsustainable in terms of the environment, the economy, food and human  
security, and political inclusion. It is our right and obligation to  
construct a new model that will guarantee the survival of the planet,  
of all species, and of humanity.

This will only be possible if it is done in an inclusive manner, if we  
form one united chorus, with all our voices and experiences and find  
the strength necessary to produce the results we want and need.

Finally, we must remember that the closing of the Colombia-Canada FTA  
negotiations does not represent ratification of this bilateral  
agreement. We invite the people of Colombia and Canada and the  
different social, political, student, union, rural, indigenous and  
women's organizations to mobilize immediately to reject this  
agreement, an agreement that works against people and for the benefit  
transnational corporate interests.

We - as people who believe in the possibility and need to create a  
more just world and work for solidarity, inclusion, social justice and  
the protection of life - have the democratic right to demand that this  
dangerous agreement is NOT signed by our governments.

A call for action:

First, to send letters not only to our governments (Canadians to their  
Members of Parliament and Colombians to their President) but also  
Canadians to the Colombian government and vice versa.

Second, to plan popular actions in front of the embassies and/or  
consulates of both countries, demonstrating the power of the people  
and our disapproval of the illegitimacy of the secret ratification of  
this agreement by our governments, who are supposed to represent us.

In this way we will remind our governments that legitimacy is won only  
by representing the interests of the people. This agreement DOES NOT  
represent the interests of the people but those of the transnationals.


[1] Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. (Junio 7, 2008).  
Trade negotiations and agreements, news releases and backgrounder.  
Versión electrónica. encontrado el 21 de junio de 2008 en http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/andean-andin/can-colombia-colombie.aspx?lang=en

[2] Ibid

[3] BBC Mundo. (16 de mayo 2007). Uribe defiende. BBC Mundo. Versión  
electrónica. Encontrado el 21 de junio de 2008 en http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/spanish/latin_america/newsid_6660000/6660281.stm

[4] Audio del sabado 24 de mayo 2008 durante el consejo comunitario de  
Florida Valle. Versión electrónica. encontrado el 21 de junio de 2008  
en http://nasaacin.org/audios/uribeenflorida.mp3

[5] Ibid

[6] El tiempo (29 de Mayo 2008). Entrar a universidades en las que se  
presenten acciones violentas ordena presidente Álvaro Uribe. El  
tiempo. Versión electrónica. Encontrado el 21 de junio del 2008 en http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/ 

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