April 23, 2012

The Real Colombian Scandal: U.S. Enacting Job-Killing Trade Deal With Human Rights Abuser

The Real Colombian Scandal: U.S. Enacting Job-Killing Trade Deal With Human Rights Abuser
An iconic photograph of the funeral of an assassinated trade unionist in Colombia.

Over the past week, the mainstream press in the United States has obsessively covered an embarassing incident where U.S. Secret Service agents allegedly employed prostitutes in advance of President Obama’s visit to Colombia. While this incident reflects poorly on the Secret Service and creates issues regarding security, there is a wider scandal that the media largely failed to cover during Obama’s trip.

A major item on the President’s agenda during his trip to Latin America was to herald the enforcement of the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, which the United States will begin to enact next month.

President Obama said the trade deal is a “win for both our countries” and that it would end up “supporting thousands of jobs.”

Notice that Obama did not say that the agreement would create jobs, but rather that it would support them. This is very careful language that avoids confronting the fact that nonpartisan think tanks like the Economic Policy Institute have calculated that the agreement could cost up to 55,000 American jobs.

The agreement also comes at a time when violence against Colombian labor unionists remains very high. In fact, Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be part of a labor union, with 49 labor unionists being assassinated in 2010, more than the entire rest of the world combined.

So why did the United States decide to sign onto a trade agreement that will likely cost tens of thousands of jobs and reward a major human rights violator like Colombia? Last year, the Colombian government began paying prominent lobbying firms like Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart to take up its case with the U.S. government.

The powerful corporate lobby the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — which spent 66 million dollars lobbying in 2011 and spent as much as $33 million to elect Members of Congress who mostly supported the agreement — also advocated strongly for the agreement, even absurdly arguing that it’s more dangerous to be an American citizen than a labor unionist.

The voices of human rights advocates and labor unions were drowned out by corporate cash, and violence against unions continues to rage in Colombia. This should be a much more pressing scandal than the Secret Service’s indiscretions with prostitutes, if the press would cover it.