As I was dining out with a couple of colleagues, the issue of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States came up. There was an overwhelming disappointment over the likely possibility the agreement will be postponed until next year because of domestic agenda and endless opposition of some in-and-out the U.S. Congress.
After a while debating, the unsolved question remained as to why the U.S. strongest ally in the region has been ostracized by some leftist pundits to the extent of torpedoing every attempt to get it through.
The answer would depend on who you asked to. A conservative and republican would say Colombia has become a political battleground between the US right and left. A libertarian leftist would say: It is a struggle in the name of both human rights and workers’ rights. A moderate, pro-Uribe Colombian would answer the U.S. is not a reliable partner and its agenda varies depending on the U.S. own interests. A leftist Colombian would respond the U.S. is an imperialist country that wants to dominate Latin-American and Uribe is the father of all paramilitaries and the puppet of U.S.
What do I think? Let´s try to organize the ideas.
The FTA with Colombia was negotiated between 2004-2006 with the Bush Administration in order to promote and expand trade between the United States and Colombia by eliminating tariffs and other barriers to goods and services. Colombia´s congress approved the agreement and a protocol of amendment in 2007. Colombia´s constitutional court completed its review in July 2008, and concluded that the Agreement conforms to Colombia´s constitution.
Nowadays, the trade between the US and Colombia is regulated under an agreement known as Andean Trade Preference Act Colombian, which was established in December 1991 as a trade component of the War against Drugs by Bush Father, Under this agreement Colombian products are tariffs-free when they are exported to the U.S. while American products are taxed while coming into Colombia.
Even though, there is an unclear disadvantage for American goods and services, the Agreement was not put out to vote because of both a rift between the House of Chambers and the White House and strong opposition of labor and civil rights groups.
The issue of the FTA with Colombia has become a thorny one as the forces of trade have succumbed to the U.S. and Colombia´s ideological leftist opposition
Since 2005 and before, the Colombian government mistakenly labeled the FTA as in “the national interest” citing increasing foreign direct investment, improving business environment and cheaper intermediate inputs. In order to lobbying the agreement, the Colombia government sent high ranking civilians and military officials to endorse and speak out in favor of the treaty. Additionally, the Colombia embassy in the U.S. did hire a couple of well-know democratic lobbyist agencies in order to have access to the core of the Democratic Party.
The efforts proved futile as the FTA was not approved by the House of Chambers and its vote postponed indefinitely, giving to the Colombian government a huge political defeat and a resounding victory to those opposed in the U.S and Colombia.
By prioritizing the FTA, the Colombian government gave an easy target to Colombian and American labor, grassroots and human rights groups, which promptly acknowledged the significance of the treaty. The strong opposition of labor and human rights groups has been nurtured by ideological differences which come from Uribe´s support of Vigilantes patrols in chaotic rural Antioquia Providence during his years of governor.
These organizations have magnificently opposed the FTA by portraying Colombia as a failed state, governed by a dictator who undermines the fundamental rights of Colombians, conceals the wrongdoings of his armed forces and supports paramilitary-linked legislators. These theses have been supported by their ideological counterparts in the U.S. and Europe.
The Colombian leftist opposition heavy artillery included numerous trips from grassroots and unions organizations as wells as leaders of the opposition to meet their counterparts in the U.S., Extensive propaganda was used as to refer to the killings of union leaders and the widespread human rights violations in Colombia as a sort of State Policy.
There is a huge misconception and overtly one-sided information about the labor and human rights issues currently happening in Colombia, which not simply deteriorates Colombia´s image but increases both the disparagement of moderate and conservative Colombians against local unions and leftist parties and the distrustfulness against the U.S.and its institutions.
Some of the arguments they have stated are undisputable such as the poor labor conditions of underemployed Colombian workers and the appropriation and accumulation of land by big landowners that took advantage of the failed peace process with the self-defense armed forces groups.
Nonetheless, the more media-moving arguments such as the unionist murders, the human rights violations by the government and the linkage of several legislators with the paramilitaries exaggerate the reality of the events, minimize the changes Colombia has experienced since almost becoming a failed state and decry the transparency the independent judiciary has done to exercise justice.
These issues have successfully been used by the U.S. leftist organizations to propel their own interests. Thinking they are supportive of the Colombian counterparts is not just simplistic or overoptimistic but flatly unrealistic as they are truly interested in advancing their own agenda. The American unions are simply interested in opposing any trade agreement, whereas Human Rights organizations were, are and will torpedo any kind of political support to Colombian´s current policies from western countries.
As a friend one day say to me: “no one knows what happens on somebody else´s shoes ´tll he wears them” So no paper will be able to show neither the improvements Colombia has gone through nor the satisfaction of the majority of Colombians to have successfully emerged from a deep abysm. But, these failed attempts to approve this trade treaty have questioned the reliability of the U.S. partnership among Colombians because It makes no sense US is eager to take on Colombian military bases while that eagerness easily dissipates when the issue of the FTA comes up.
American foreign policy has always been a tool to propel this country own interests depending, big time, on the local agenda so, as a recommendation, do not expect much from Americans.
Author Luis J. Rodríguez is CEO of e-Bursatil.com.co, a website focused on Colombia’s financial market