Citizens in several municipalities in Colombia have been employing direct democracy in the form of public consultations in order to voice their opposition to the proposed free trade agreement between Columbia and the United States. The trade agreement would have a devastating effect on Columbia's struggling poor, and opponents to the agreement are calling upon the Columbian government of Alvaro Uribe, a government very much directed by the powers that be in Washington, to put the matter to a the people in a nationwide referendum. While the Colombian government is not likely to heed this request, opposition to the agreement in the U.S. Congress has stalled its implementation. In this letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Columbian opponents of the trade agreement express their gratitude and put forth their aruements against the FTA. - Editor
Colombia: Open Letter To Nancy Pelosi and the US Congress
Thursday, 17 April 2008
"Three years later, like us, you said no to the Colombia-US Free Trade Agreement."
Dear Representative Pelosi and Congress of the United States of America:
First, we would like to express our joy and gratitude for the decision made April 10, 2008, in the United States Congress. With 224 votes in favor and 195 against, the House of Representatives, over which you preside, decided to indefinitely freeze the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the US. We know that this is but one step on a long path, but the result is profoundly meaningful for our peoples, and it opens a window through which we can breathe with strength and rejuvenated spirits. With this letter, beyond expressing our recognition and appreciation as peoples, we seek to open a space for communication between us, because we feel that we deserve the right to be heard and respected. It is long overdue that Democratic Party members of Congress under your leadership should become aware of our democratic decision and analyses, all of which are rooted in dignity and respect for life.
Little more than three years ago, on Sunday March 6, 2005, the first Popular Consultation on the US-Colombia FTA was carried out through a referendum held in six municipalities in the Department of Cauca, Colombia. In that free, open and transparent referendum, monitored by national and international observers and bound by strict electoral regulations, there was a level of participation that had been unprecedented in the history of our municipalities. Ninety-eight percent of the people responded NO to the following question: "Are you in favor of the FTA between Colombia and the United States?" The people expressed their sovereign and conscious decision. Since that first consultation, others have been carried out throughout Colombia, all with the same result.
On February 1, 2005, we had made public a proclamation in which we called for a national popular referendum on the FTA. We invite you to examine this document, which we reaffirm, and whose clarity and eloquence remain relevant today, even more so given the most recent decision of the US Congress. In order that you may understand our motives and perspectives, we believe it is our right to respectfully express this to you, as peoples reacting to a trade agreement that would deeply affect our lives. Through you, Rep. Pelosi, we invite the Congress and the people of the United States to read this proclamation and to treat its content with the respect and consideration that it deserves [http://www.en-camino.org/node/34], recognizing the sovereign and democratic decision of our peoples.
It is important for you to know that from the moment of our carrying out the consultation to today, information on the FTA and its consequences made available to the people of Colombia through the government and the mass media has been absurdly distorted and entirely in favor of those interested in winning approval of the agreement. This has effectively closed any spaces for debate and discussion among diverse perspectives, which would be necessary for Colombian citizens to understand the issue and to take a substantive position on it. In the proclamation of our consultation, we asked: "If the FTA is so good, why is the population being misinformed, and why is the government so afraid of a popular consultation and a conscious and democratic decision?"
Today, in light of the decision you have made, we reiterate the relevance of that question. In spite of the barrage of propaganda in favor of the FTA and the manner in which fear was used to assure people that rejecting the FTA would be equivalent to the United States' abandoning Colombia in backwardness, those who participated in the referendum understood that quite to the contrary, approval of the FTA on these terms and under these conditions would be equivalent to pushing Colombia toward an abyss of backwardness, impoverishment, inequality, and war. We understand that the people of the United States also suffer negative consequences from these kinds of trade agreements, but it is ultimately up to you and the people of the United States to analyze and make decisions on these agreements and their consequences. Rep. Pelosi, the Colombian government was opposed and remains opposed to allowing the Colombian people to understand the real impacts of the FTA that has been presented to Congress; it has closed the spaces of democratic debate and ignored the results of the Popular Consultation. We therefore urge you to examine the Consultation of March 2005, our motives and arguments, the democratic decision of the peoples, and the consequences and implications of this decision. We also invite you to support the right of peoples to understand and decide. With respect to the FTA, this is a right that the Colombian government has not respected.
The Colombian government attempted to discredit the decision of the consultation, alleging that we do not understand the benefits of the FTA and that terrorists and other nefarious forces had manipulated the population. Our response to this disturbing and unfounded accusation is found in the text of the proclamation and in the reality of facts that speak for themselves. The position of the government is racist insofar as it still considers us primitive beings incapable of understanding and consciously deciding for ourselves. Moreover, it seriously threatens our lives and integrity by falsely claiming links with terrorists, claims that easily become death sentences in this country.
Read our arguments and see for yourselves if we can be accused of not understanding. In contrast with the Colombian government's reaction, read and respond with ideas, arguments, and substance. As we said in the proclamation calling for the consultation, we are opposed to neither free trade nor an agreement with the United States. We are opposed to this particular agreement, and we have reasons based fundamentally on substance.
Rep. Pelosi, Members of Congress, and people of the United States, three years after our proclamation and call to carry out a public referendum on the FTA, three years after our people said NO, in spite of the closing of spaces for debate and democratic decision-making, more than 60% of arable lands in Colombia remain in the hands of 15,000 families, less than 0.4% of the population of the country. This immense concentration of land is nonproductive in that the food that we consume comes from the poor, small producers; the large property owners do not produce food. Furthermore, the influx of subsidized agricultural products condemns peasants, indigenous peoples, and rural producers to ruin and hunger, as they face the impossibility of competing with less expensive products and artificially reduced prices. Free trade is making the production of crops for illicit use necessary for survival and for the attainment of basic economic resources. You are well aware that we are being displaced and forced off our lands through violence and war, which serves to open the countryside to the megaprojects of transnational corporations. This eviction has displaced 4 million of our compatriots to the cities, where they live in miserable conditions. This promotes only social and political violence and hatred, thereby perpetuating war and misery.
The agreement would place the price of life-saving medications beyond reach for the majority of Colombia's people and would permit the patenting of life-forms and our ancestral knowledge. The FTA, which you have decided to not consider for now, would back a government whose president, during a "community council" held on March 15, 2008, offered bounties on the lives of indigenous peoples who are struggling to recover the lands from which we have been displaced, lands to which we have a right in accordance with agreements with the very state that now criminalizes our struggles to access its own commitments. Agrarian reform has been transformed into a crime in order to protect particular interests that would benefit from the FTA. In the midst of war, misery, displacement, terror, and deception, there can be prosperity for no one. That is why we have rejected this FTA.
Rep. Pelosi and Members of Congress, we want a trade agreement that is actually an agreement, one that is negotiated among sectors that really represent the interests of peoples—not only among a few who act exclusively in the interests of big capital. We want an agreement that is free and not imposed unilaterally through propaganda, without debate or open and democratic consultation. We want an agreement that has real trade as its content, trade that guarantees reciprocal opportunity, so that the well-being of peoples is realized in a manner that is autonomous and sovereign and protects nature and life. The FTA that you have decided not to debate for the moment promotes displacement, legalizes injustice, condemns us to permanent war, and leaves us behind.
We celebrate the decision that you have taken, and we thank you. This means nothing more or less than respecting our lives. Receive our expression of immense gratitude to your people, and accept our invitation to understand the motives of the decision we made democratically three years ago.
Association of Indigenous Authorities of Northern Cauca, Council
For more information on the indigenous movement in Colombia visit: http://www.nasaacin.org/.