Garry Leech is editor of Colombia Journal, author of Crude Interventions and Killing Peace, and coauthor of The People Behind Colombian Coal. A lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Cape Breton University, Leech lives in Nova Scotia. His account of being held captive by guerrillas, Beyond Bogotá, Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia, will be published by Beacon Press this fall.
There has been an ongoing debate in Washington about a potential free trade agreement with Colombia. The failure to implement a hemisphere-wide agreement—the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)—led President George W. Bush to push for a bilateral pact with his ideologically-aligned ally in Colombia, President Alvaro Uribe. The Bush administration signed a free trade pact with Colombia in November 2006, but congressional Democrats have stalled its ratification due to ongoing human rights abuses in Colombia, particularly against unionists.
The Bush administration repeatedly points to a recent reduction in the number of Colombian labor leaders killed as justification for the free trade agreement. In October 2007, U.S. State Department spokesperson, R. Nicholas Burns, declared, "Homicides of trade unionists have shown a steep decline…. Rather than condemning as insufficient the considerable progress already made by the Colombian people, we should help them consolidate that progress through expanded trade."
In the past 20 years, more than 3,000 Colombian unionists have been assassinated. In 2007, Colombia remained the most dangerous country in the world for unionists with thirty-nine labor leaders killed; a number significantly lower than the 197 assassinated in 2001—the year before President Uribe assumed office. Consequently, the Bush administration is clearly correct when it points out that there has been a marked decrease in the number of unionists killed under the Uribe administration.