Unions say free trade pact would stoke Colombia strife

Teamsters Union president James Hoffa and Jorge Gamboa, president of the National Petroleum Workers Union of Colombia, warn that ratifying the U.S.-Colombia “free trade” agreement would continue the long civil war that results in hostage-taking there.

The deal, they say, would let big multinational monopolies further cut Colombian workers’ wages and slash their few current on-the-job protections. Hoffa and Gamboa told a joint July 1 telephone news conference that if the trade agreement passes the U.S. Congress, thousands more Colombians will have no alternative but illegal coca cultivation to feed their families.

Coca cultivation and uncontrolled activity by right-wing paramilitaries financed by companies like Chiquita and Coca-Cola are widely acknowledged as major elements fueling the country’s on-going civil war. The paramilitaries have killed tens of thousands of Colombians, including 2,500 trade unionists, since 1991.

Gamboa explained the connection between the civil war and the U.S-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: “The paramilitaries receive money from the multinationals for murder of labor leaders. If the agreement is passed the companies will have even more incentive to continue paying the paramilitaries because the trade agreement would let them cut workers’ wages and violently suppress organizing drives.”

Hoffa said the agreement would hurt American workers by encouraging further off-shoring of jobs and by putting downward pressure on U.S. wages and working conditions. He urged the Democratic-controlled Congress to defeat pending legislation implementing the pact. He also condemned Republican presidential candidate John McCain for using his recent trip to Colombia to push the agreement, calling McCain “out of touch with U.S. workers who oppose such trade pacts.”

The U.S., Hoffa said, “shouldn’t be dealing with regimes that torture and kill their own citizens. John McCain should know that better than anyone.” The Teamsters are urging everyone to call the senator at (202) 224-2235 and tell him, “No deals with murderers.”

jwojcik @pww.org