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A Day of Defeat: Colombia Free Trade Agreement Passes

Yesterday, on October 12, 2011, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), along with similar trade pacts with both Panama and Korea, was passed by both the House and the Senate by a great majority, drawing an end to a five-year struggle to enact the trade measure. Fervently pursuing their own political agendas while turning a blind eye to the human rights situation in Colombia, both Republicans and Democrats all but ignored, the many Americans who were extremely vocal during the free trade debate. During the House and Senate debates which occurred on October 12, 2011, those who opposed the FTA adamantly pointed to statistics regarding various reports of human rights violations by numerous government offices and private agencies. Although President Obama, the once-promising leader for renovating U.S-Latin American ties, has framed the Colombian FTA to the American public as a pact which will bring jobs to the United States, his critics argue differently. In their view, this new legislation is a bid to improve the president’s popularity among his conservative opponents and increase his chances for re-election in 2012. While the President’s focus seems to be on continued occupation of the White House, human rights abuses continually occur against labor unionists in Colombia and similar criminal gangs that are simply mutants of former paramilitaries who have continued to commit atrocities against the nation’s civilians.

Of the many U.S. representatives that chose to voice their opinions, only a handful expressed their strong disapproval of the FTA’s ratification. One representative from Ohio noted how only six percent of those who had committed human rights abuses towards labor unionists in Colombia have actually been convicted, while granting the meager improvement of human rights abuses since 2010. Other members of the House of Representatives discussed the labor repercussions that would occur as a result of the advent of the FTA. Making fifteen cents an hour, Colombian workers cannot compete with those in the U.S., who normally make nine dollars an hour. In addition, a California representative argued that the ratification of the FTA would actually decrease employment within the small business sector. Due to the strong appeal for the cheap labor offered in Colombia, U.S. producers could actually witness a major outsourcing of jobs to the Latin American country. Other politicians also have voiced their concerns over U.S. job security. The Democratic House Leader and close ally of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, disagrees with the now passed FTA legislation, arguing that the main focus instead be oriented toward the China currency bill which would combat the country’s undervalued currency. Due to China’s currency manipulation, 1.6 million jobs already have been lost, and Pelosi, taking a somewhat careful stance, noted that although the Colombia FTA would create seven thousand jobs, failure to pass the China currency bill would create a net loss in American jobs.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Candiss Shumate.

To read the full article, click here.

Thursday October 13th, 2011 | Research Memorandum 11.3


The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers.



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