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May 17, 2011

The Colombia Trade Agreement

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The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from California (Mr. George Miller) for 5 minutes.

Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. This Congress is entering its fifth month without bringing a single jobs bill to the House floor, and there are no jobs bills in sight. But we do hear calls for a series of trade agreements, including ones with Colombia and Korea.

At a time when millions of Americans are still looking for work, the House will be spending time protecting corporate investments in foreign countries and not jobs here at home. At a time when multinational corporations have fired 2.9 million American workers, they will be hiring 2.4 million workers overseas. The House will be spending time shoring up corporate overseas investments rather than encouraging investments here at home. And at a time when so many in the Middle East are rising up for democracy and human rights and are receiving support from the United States for those efforts, the House is taking up trade agreements with Colombia that fails to live up to those very values.

One of our most important responsibilities as elected officials is to promote and to protect American jobs. We do this by trying to ensure that American workers do not face unfair competition with countries that keep wages low by repressing essential democratic rights. These are important rights, the right to speak out, the right to protest, the right to organize unions, the right to bargain collectively and directly with their employers, and to support political efforts to improve their economic conditions without reprisals.

But reprisals are what you get in China. Thousands of strikes last year were met not by their employers but by the police and the army, beating up on the workers who were seeking better wages and better working conditions in plants all across China.

What do you get when you protest your rights in Colombia? You get assassinations. You get death squads against union members, union leaders, members of union families all across the country. The American worker can compete; but you can't compete against the Colombian Army, the Colombian death squads, the Chinese Army. That's not fair competition. But that's what's protected in these trade agreements.

Tragically, Colombia stands out as a country where wages are kept low and workers are repressed through widespread violence and other human rights violations. Colombia has earned the reputation as the most dangerous country on Earth for workers trying to build a better life. During the last Colombian President's 8 years in office, 570 union members were assassinated--149 in the last 3 years--and the violence hasn't stopped with the election of the new President.

Reports of assassinations against union members and leaders keep coming. The two most recent ones include the April 8 assassination of Ramiro Sanchez. He was shot repeatedly as he left a union meeting. Mr. Sanchez had received death threats after organizing workers to demand local hiring at an oil company. And the March 30 assassination of Hector Orozco, who was an official with the peasant farmers' union. He and his colleague Gildardo Garcia were found murdered. Days earlier, Mr. Orozco reported that he and other peasants were threatened by an army officer.

On top of the violence is the problem of impunity. Authorities have only investigated a quarter of the union killings since 1986. No one has been held accountable for 98 percent of the crimes against unionists. The violence and impunity came together in another recent case. A few weeks ago, Judge Gloria Gaono was shot in the head in broad daylight. At the time, she was presiding over a politically sensitive case of a military officer accused of murdering three children, one of whom he apparently admitted to raping.

Now Colombia has a new President who says he wants to turn the page on Colombia's past. But these murders and human rights violations are not the past. They are happening today. Before we consider any agreement with Colombia on free trade, real changes must come to Colombia. That is why I

[Page: H3224]  GPO's PDF
have joined with colleagues to lay out a series of benchmarks that should be met by Colombia before the Obama administration sends Congress any trade agreement with that country. These benchmarks are designed to reduce the violence, to protect human rights, and to end the impunity of the death squads and the army, and the actions they take against these families. They require on-the-ground results and ver i fi ca tion.

The administration, however, has adopted an action plan for Colombia that does not demand the results on the ground. I appreciate that U.S. and Colombia finally are bringing labor rights into the equation, but their plan only demands results on paper. Under their plan, nothing really needs to actually change in Colombia. Colombia could have a record year of assassinations and still meet the requirements of the plan. Indeed, before the action plan has been fully implemented, the administration is already preparing the way with Congress to implement this trade agreement. If this action plan were made fully enforceable under the agreement and into the future, we could have something more than just results on paper. Unless it is enforceable, this is less than a serious commitment. It is not fair to Colombians, and it's not fair to the American workers, and it's not fair to our national values and does not reflect our national values.

The American worker can compete with any worker in the world. They're rated time and again the most productive workers in the world. But they cannot compete against currency manipulation in China. They cannot compete against the Chinese Army that breaks up the rights of workers to protest, and they cannot compete against the death squads that have been assigned to assassinate union members, union leaders, and union families.

(House of Representatives - May 12, 2011)

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