Hundreds Demand a New U.S.-Colombia Policy
Traffic was blocked, media flocked
On Monday, June 29th, just before President Obama's meeting with Colombian President Uribe, about 200 of us gathered near the White House to take a stand for human rights in Colombia. Activists shouted anti-FTA chants and hoisted pro-human rights signs in a clear demonstration of the growing energy behind the demand for an overhaul of U.S.-Colombia policies.
At a pivotal moment in the rally, ten activists chained themselves together, blockaded the busy 16th and H St. NW intersection, and then lay "dead" on thestreet for over an hour as symbols of Colombia's unchecked murders. Check out video footage here. As traffic ground to a halt around the White House, media crews flocked to the scene to report on our appeal to President Obama. Coverage included this piece from CNN, this article in Union City, and this radio spot from Free Speech Radio News. See below for the compelling press release of the ten activists who blocked the intersection. For further pictures, video, and coverage, visit obamarememberus.wordpress.com. To support our ongoing push for a just U.S. policy toward Colombia, click here.
In contrast to the hope generated by the robust rally, President Obama indicated after his subsequent meeting with President Uribe that he may backtrack on his stated support for a human-rights-focused policy toward Colombia. While on the campaign trail in April '08, Obama announced, "I'll also oppose the Colombia free trade agreement…because the violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements." On Monday, Obama reneged: "I have instructed Ambassador Kirk, our United States Trade Representative, to begin working closely with President Uribe's team on how we can proceed on a free trade agreement…I'm confident that ultimately we can strike a deal that is good for the people of Colombia and good for the people of the United States."
Why the about-face on the notorious Colombia free trade deal? President Obama explained, "I commended President Uribe on the progress that has been made in human rights in Colombia and dealing with the killings of labor leaders there, and obviously we've seen a downward trajectory in the deaths of labor unions…" Obama's assertions sadly contradict the facts. As for human rights, a recent U.N. investigation just concluded that "cold-blooded, premeditated murder of innocent civilians" continues to be "carried out in a more or less systematic fashion by significant elements within the [Colombian] military." As for the trajectory of anti-union violence, it's anything but "downward." Forty-nine more unionists were murdered in 2008, a 26% increase over the previous year and more unionist killings than in the rest of the world combined. Obama's statement on Monday also of course ignores the fact that the free trade agreement itself would prove devastating by pushing farmers out of work and exacerbating Colombia's spiraling displacement crisis.
It's apparent that President Obama still needs to hear our message, to get his facts straight, to actually depart from the sordid free-trade-and-military-aid approach to Latin America policy. To support our ongoing push for a just U.S. policy toward Colombia, click here.
Bodies of Slain Colombians Block President Uribe's Path to President Obama
MURDERED HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS DEMAND THAT OBAMA KEEP HIS PROMISE NOT TO REWARD IMPUNITY
JUNE 29, 2009, WASHINGTON, DC - Today ten bodies of murdered Colombian human rights activists appeared on H Street NW, just north of the White House, to block Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez's path to the White House for his first-ever bilateral meeting with President Obama. Since Uribe took office in 2002, thousands of peaceful activists have been murdered by the Colombian armed forces or paramilitaries with documented ties to the president and his governing coalition. In 2008 then-Senator Obama promised to be an ally of beleaguered activists, particularly labor unions, and forcefully stated that his opposition to the US-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA) was due to the Uribe government's unwillingness to investigate these murders.
The Obama Administration has said in recent weeks that it will be announcing "a new framework on trade," but since January Hillary Clinton and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) have indicated their intention to move forward with the FTA.
The bodies - of campesinos/family farmers, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, journalists, union leaders, teachers and human rights defenders - surfaced with a message for the US president: "President Obama, keep your promise."
Their statement continued:
"When House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer tells you Uribe has made great "progress," and that it's time to pass the FTA, remember that 60% of the trade unionists killed worldwide last year were Colombian, with the killers still at large. President Obama, keep your promise.
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advises your administration to continue to give Uribe's military US $500 million a year, remember that this is the same military that was found to have assassinated nearly 2,000 civilians over six years, falsely presenting their bodies as dead insurgent fighters.1 President Obama, keep your promise.
When your trade negotiator Ron Kirk proposes that you sign a proposed free trade agreement, remember that 380,000 people were displaced by violence last year in Colombia, including state violence. President Obama, keep your promise.
And when Uribe asks you to make a statement affirming that his government has addressed the concerns of labor and human rights activists, remember that over 30% of the legislators in his governing coalition are being investigated or have been jailed for ties to paramilitary groups. Remember that Uribe continues to publicly attack human rights defenders, often leading to death threats against them by paramilitaries. President Obama, keep your promise.
Remember that in 2005 you wrote to President Uribe criticizing his paramilitary demobilization as having a 'negative impact on justice, peace and the rule of law in Colombia.'
President Obama, keep your promise to be an ally of the victims of human rights abuses. Continue to oppose passage of the Free Trade Agreement, and shut off US aid to the Colombian armed forces."
1 Statement by Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions - Mission to Colombia 8-18 Jun 2009