Jorge Enrique Robledo
Bogotá, February 27, 2010.
The governments of Colombia and the European Union (EU) announced that they will sign a free trade agreement (FTA). But it remains to be seen whether the agreement will be passed by the European Parliament, given the fact that in Europe there is growing opposition to the idea of sacrificing human rights to business interests. Here is some background:
In November of 2006, President George W. Bush asked the United States Congress to pass the free trade agreement that had been worked out with Álvaro Uribe’s Colombian government. But after 40 months, including the first year of Barack Obama’s term, the U.S. Congress has not brought the agreement up for a vote. The fact that they quickly passed an identical agreement with the Peruvian government demonstrates that they don’t oppose the Colombia FTA for economic reasons.
The argument put forth by the Democratic Party against the agreement is that the government of President Uribe receives very low grades on human rights and, therefore should not be rewarded with the absolution that an FTA between the two countries would mean.
For its part, the Canadian Parliament, also bothered by the poor human rights record, has refused to pass the FTA signed by the governments of Ottawa and Bogotá, because they don’t want to award the certificate of good conduct that their U.S. counterparts have refused to grant. The question is whether the European Union will do so, by arguing that human rights shouldn’t affect business interests and by going against unions and other democratic sectors of European society that are opposed to the FTA with Álvaro Uribe’s government.
European transnational corporations will heavily influence the final decision, especially Spanish companies. During Uribe’s administration major Colombian business operations came under the control of Spanish multinationals, and today Spain is the number two foreign country investing in Colombia, after the United States. Spain’s President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has taken on the mantle of Latin America’s spokesman in Europe and just became President of the European Union. Thus we can expect that the Spanish government’s position will play an important role.
Despite the gravity of human rights violations, it’s well known that Spanish transnational capital supports an expansion of business with Uribe’s Colombia. During his April 2009 visit to Spain Uribe met with spokespersons from Endesa, Iberia, Telefónica Latinoamérica, BBVA, Acciona, AENA, CAF, Cepsa, Grupo Planeta, Grupo Prisa, Indra, Isolux, Mapfre, Técnicas Reunidas, Unión Fenosa and Zucin. Speaking on behalf of all of these companies, Javier Gómez-Navarro, president of the Chambers of Commerce of Spain, explained that “for Spanish companies Uribe’s possible reelection is good news,” because it would “provide security for big businesses” (El Tiempo.com, April 29/09). And money talks so loudly that they even support Uribe’s attempt to change the Constitution a second time in order to get himself reelected.
Finally, it is not true that the FTA will produce a decrease in violence by improving Colombia’s economy, as some Europeans are saying. In actual fact twenty years of free trade polices have resulted in the destruction of Colombia’s industry and agriculture and in a dramatic increase in poverty, misery and unemployment.