In my question/answer about the Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA), I cited a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), an organization that has a board with people like George Soros, Kofi Annan, Richard Armitage, Louise Arbour, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Lakhdar Brahimi, and Ernesto Zedillo on it - not exactly raging radicals, in other words. The ICG report I cited is called "The Virtuous Twins: Protecting Human Rights and Improving Security in Colombia." The passage I cited recommended that the international community condition arms sales to Colombia on respect for human rights. Its strongest stance was reserved for the Colombian government's practice of attacking human rights activists as terrorists:
"Despite some recent measures in reaction to the mounting extrajudicial execution scandal, the security forces have a long way to go regarding accountability, professionalism and full commitment to human rights...an absolute precondition is an end to the stigmatisation by high government officials of human rights groups as linked to guerrillas."
So, Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe Velez came to Canada and spoke to Canadian politicians in order to try to resurrect the stalled CCFTA. How did he prepare the ground for this visit in Colombia, and what did he do in Canada?
He violated the "absolute precondition" for engagement with his regime and engaged in "stigmatisation" of "human rights groups as linked to guerrillas". And, like his regime has done in the past with Venezuelans and Ecuadorians, he did so not only with Colombians, but with Canadians as well. Regimes that violate people's rights don't stop at any borders. Indeed, for the CCFTA to pass, it is probably necessary that those of us who are against it in Canada receive smears, false accusations, and perhaps legal persecutions the way people in Colombia do.
It started, as it usually does, in the Colombian media, last week. Remember that the CCFTA was stalled in the Canadian Parliament (we won't say "prorogued") on May 27/09. On June 4/09, Colombian media outlet RCN pronounced that the Colombian guerrilla group FARC had a "foreign ministry" in Canada. The source? "Colombian intelligence officials", "who traveled to Canada to confirm suspicion" that a FARC leader's family members "form the guerrillas' foreign ministry and keep contact with human rights NGOs and leftist political parties."
As usual, no evidence except the claims of these unnamed "intelligence officials" was provided. Not even a magic laptop was given.
Coincidentally, a day later on June 5/09, Canada's latest free trade partner, Peru, was massacring indigenous protesters - over 40 at the latest count, with over 20 police dying as well - for their blockades, which were set up to protest laws enabling the seizure of their lands and the opening up of the Amazon to mining developments that they won't benefit from, destroying the agricultural and natural lands that provide the means for their survival. This is an ongoing free trade massacre, occurring to ensure that the agreement benefits those who pushed it through. Implementing legislation for the Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement had been passed two days before (by the Conservatives and the Liberals*). Mining Watch, Council of Canadians, and Common Frontiers argued that Canada should pull out of the Peru Free Trade Agreement. It could be stopped if the Canadian Senate sends the bill back to Parliament for reconsideration. If a massacre like this can't force a reconsideration, it's not clear what can - or what motivates decisions like these.
Back to Colombia for more "stigmatisation". On the day of the massacre in Peru (June 5/09), Colombian Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo, a very strong voice against the CCFTA on economic grounds (Robledo visited Ottawa earlier this year and tried to explain the economics of the CCFTA to Conservatives and Liberals), published an op-ed about President Uribe's sons benefiting from some government-sponsored deals. The land-turnaround deal for the politically connected is a fairly simple staple in politics: buy a piece of land cheaply, make some improvements to it, its legal status changes due to some political decisions, and then you sell it off at a huge profit. If you know the right politicians and know when to buy and sell, it's a great way to make money. Having a father who is President of the country doesn't hurt.
Amazingly, just a few days later (June 10/09), Senator Robledo discovered that he was being investigated by the Colombian Prosecutor-General for links to FARC! The basis for the accusation? The magic laptop, again! Yes, indeed, it was "evidence" found on the computer of assassinated FARC leader, Raul Reyes, that was implicating Senator Robledo, just days after he published an article showing evidence of corruption by the President's sons! Robledo published a quick reply saying these absurd accusations would not silence him, and reminding readers that the magic laptop had been in the possession of police for 15 months; of his 30 years teaching at the National University of Colombia and renouncing violence consistently throughout; of his membership in MOIR and the Polo Democratico, both of which reject violence. Robledo went on:
"It's no coincidence that this defamation against me, with the obvious intent to discredit me, occurs when Alvaro Uribe failed to win approval of the FTA with Canada, where my article about the business interests of the President's sons has been circulating and where the Parliament has just heard arguments from the an international trade commission explaining why it should reject the CCFTA."
The Harper-Uribe sitdown the next day (June 11/09) saw both men float fantastic stories about FARC cells in Canada and "ideological" motivations for opposing the CCFTA (this from the ideology-free quarters that produced "Seguridad Democratica", Stockwell Day, and Jason Kenney). This wasn't the energetic Harper-Uribe handshake that happened in 2007 when they had Bush behind them, however: the photo shows two tired men whose politics never fit well with democracies, but whose nastiness seems especially outdated now that their patron has switched to selling hope and optimism. In Parliament, Uribe treated NDP and BQ politicians more or less the same as he treats Polo Democratico politicians in Colombia: with vague accusations of association to terrorism and smears from the magic laptop. When the politicians brought up the ICG's point on "stigmatisation" of human rights defenders, Uribe dodged the question with all the skill the Canadian Conservatives have shown:
"The vast majority of NGOs move freely in Colombia. There are some cases of these organizations serving terrorist groups and they have to be investigated... I no longer want to be engaged in personal confrontations with people of these organizations that have something personal against me."
Conservatives and Liberals both reverted to their usual argument that Uribe was making "efforts to improve human rights" (Liberal) and that critics shouldn't "dwell on individual cases" (Conservative).
In the Liberal-Conservative world, this is presumably true even if the situation is dismal and the (dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions) of "individual cases" add up to a systematic pattern.
* Thanks to Dawn Paley for this link
Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer. His blog is www.killingtrain.com.