Amendment or No Amendment, Liberals Must Reject Colombia Trade Deal

TORONTO, March 26 /CNW/ - Federal Liberals across Canada must reject an alliance between their party and the Conservative government for a trade agreement with Colombia, the United Steelworkers union says.

Delegates attending Liberal policy meetings this weekend in Montreal and five other Canadian cities must stand up and reject their party's pending deal with Stephen Harper's Conservatives, said Ken Neumann, USW Canadian National Director.

"The Liberals are making a devastating mistake by supporting a fast-tracked trade deal with Colombia, which has the worst human rights record in Latin America and is the world's most dangerous country for trade unionists," said Neumann.

In 2008, Canada's Standing Committee on International Trade called for an independent, impartial and comprehensive human rights impact assessment before signing a trade agreement with Colombia. However, the Liberals are now supporting a trade deal that would simply require the governments of Canada and Colombia to produce an annual "report" on human rights.

"This side deal is a meaningless afterthought," Neumann said. "It will do nothing to change the economic, social or political reality in Colombia, where union members continue to be murdered - 45 more in 2009, extra-judicial killings are carried out with impunity and millions of indigenous and Afro-Colombians are displaced."

Neumann pointed to the recent discovery of a mass grave of 2,000 murdered Colombians, which only came to light because children became sick from water polluted by the grave's effluent.

"This grave, which Colombia's own Procuraduria General confirmed contains about 2,000 bodies, is another example of gross human rights violations presided over by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his Defense Minister, Juan Manuel Santos," Neumann said.

"The Colombian Army has admitted responsibility for this mass grave. This raises the unsettling question of whether the Colombian military's extra-judicial killings of 'false positives' under President Uribe's regime is much worse than previously believed."

False positives refers to the Colombian army's extra-judicial killings of civilians, which are subsequently presented as guerrilla casualties to inflate combat body counts.

"All of this must convince Liberals that their support for the Colombia trade deal is the wrong action at the wrong time," Neumann said.

"With an election coming in Colombia, why reward outgoing president Uribe with a trade legacy that is unjustified and unwelcome by a huge segment of Colombians and Canadians alike?

"Liberals say they value workers' and human rights. They should know that Canadians who routinely engage in collective bargaining would be risking their lives if they did the same thing in Colombia. They should know that Colombian trade unionists, who have been international guests in our country, are no longer with us because they have been murdered in their homeland.

"Liberals and Conservatives must put human rights ahead of commerce and back away from trade with a murderous regime."

SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)

For further information: For further information: Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada, (416) 487-1571; Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, (416) 434-2221, (416) 544-5966,

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