by Jeremias De Castero
Basics Issue #10 (Aug/Sep 2008)
On June 7th, 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez signed a free trade agreement, pulling both of their countries deeper into the miserable economic system of capitalism. The experience of free trade for working Canadians over the last two decades has been immiserating: jobs have been shipped to the more exploited countries of the world; our public resources, like education and health care, are being privatized; and Canada is participating in endless wars abroad.
As the deal was being worked out in June 2008, it’s interesting to note how much talk there was in the Canadian media of how Colombia has become so much more democratic under its current president Uribe. Well if this trade deal is about free trade, and we know how destructive free trade has been to the world in the past decades, then what kind of democracy is the media talking about? Let’s sum up the “democratic” advances Colombia has made under Uribe to get an idea of what kind of democracy the Canadian government has in mind:
Since Uribe became president of Colombia in 2002 under the banner of ‘democratic security’, Colombian society has become more militarized and more impoverished.
While supposedly more than 15, 000 right-wing paramilitaries have been decommissioned, most have been reformed and rearmed into other organizations. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Army of the People (FARC-EP) have sustained their worst casualties in more than 15 years. At the same time as the Colombia military has waged war against the FARC-EP revolutionaries, the state’s war against the general population has stepped up as well.
In the last 20 years, the paramilitaries and the military forces have assassinated more then three thousand trade unionists, both leaders and ordinary workers, and hundreds of community activists, human rights workers, and citizens critical of the government.
Throughout the same period there has been an intense increase of poverty in Colombia, with an ever-increasing impoverishment of normal workers. Colombia is also the country with the second highest number of internal refugees in the world, a number that is increasing every day. This is the ‘democratic security’ that Uribe and his government offers.
Uribe himself has a long history of connections with paramilitaries, drug gangs and just general plain old corruption. When Uribe was governor of the Antioquia province, it is known that he would have nightly meetings with paramilitaries in his governmental compound, giving them lists of union leaders and other community organizers to target for assassination. His policies as the President have been a mixture of privatization, conservatism in regards to social issues and an opening of Colombia to the exploitation of foreign companies. None of these brutal and exploitative policies would be possible without the support of foreign imperialist nations like the U.S. and Canada.
Uribe’s regime receives massive aid in the form of military hardware, technology, military officers and contract mercenaries, costing the American tax payers nearly a $1 billion per year.
On March 1, 2008 the Colombian military made an incursion into Ecuadorian territory to bomb a site of FARC’s revolutionary leader Raul Reyes, killing him as well as 20 others. The affair caused an international stir as Colombia broke international law, leading to a deterioration of relations between Colombia and its neighbours, particularly Venezuela and Ecuador.
Finally, as a foreign policy chess piece, Uribe is much more friendly to the counter-revolutionary policies of American and Canadian governments. Currently, Latin Americans in almost every country on the continent are building massive revolutionary movements for socialism. Colombia is the sole country in Latin America where the fascist right-wing is being firmly propped up with the help of America and Canada, even though the Colombian people in the countryside have waged 40 years of insurgency against the government.
Therefore, the Colombian military provides a sure foothold in Latin America for those foreign powers wishing to stamp out people power in the neighbouring countries.
The Canadian people have nothing to gain and much to lose from Canada’s free trade deal with Colombia. Exploited workers and oppressed people in Canada must stand alongside Colombians in their struggle against the Uribe government, because it is a struggle against the American and Canadian governments too.