Colombia Free Trade Agreement 'Dead' – No Tears Here

Bush refused to go quietly, but congressional Democrats dealt a stinging blow to one of his administration's top priorities this week when they refused to hold a vote on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement and stripped the bill of its three-month deadline.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stated that a vote on the bill would be delayed until other measures to improve the economy and aid working families are considered by that body.

According to the Washington Post, Bush is upset and is lashing out as his presidency winds down. 'This free-trade agreement is in our national interests,' Bush pouted. 'Yet that bill is dead unless the speaker schedules a definite vote.'

The bitter defeat of Bush's free trade deal with Colombia is a dramatic shift from the early days of the Bush administration when Republican-controlled Congresses easily pushed through so-called fast-track authority for speedy passage of free trade agreements without much debate in Congress or the public.

Only massive public protest, highlighted by peaceful street demonstrations that turned violent when police attacked crowds of labor unionists and students in Miami in 2003, halted passage of Bush's ambitious Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in 2005.

The issue of free trade, increasingly unpopular among working families, received heightened attention in the past few months during the presidential campaign.

Republican nominee John McCain unequivocally supports free trade deal and was even quoted as downplaying the importance of the loss of jobs. At a campaign stop in Ohio during the Republican primary season, McCain told an audience, 'NAFTA was a good idea. ... [F]ree trade ... is vital to the future of America. Have people lost jobs? Yes, they have, and they're gonna lose jobs.'

McCain's comment prompted one TV commentator to smirk: 'John McCain is campaigning on more war and less jobs.'

A McCain administration would see a renewed effort to pass FTAA and other free trade agreements.

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have advocated amending free trade deals to make worker and environmental protections central to the agreements. In recent days, however, it was revealed that Clinton's top strategist, Mark Penn, who owns a publicity firm known to have engaged in anti-union campaigns, was working for the Colombian government for passage of the deal. These revelations raised serious questions about Clinton's commitment to reform.

Critics of the Colombian Free Trade Agreement cited both the loss of jobs under free trade deals and Colombia's poor human rights record in their opposition to the plan.

Vowing to continue fighting passage of the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, 'Until our brothers and sisters can exercise core worker rights without fear of intimidation, threat or murder, we cannot seriously consider passing a trade agreement with Colombia.”

'The test of trade should not be how much profit it generates,' Sweeney added.

The Colombian 'government has consistently resisted taking meaningful steps to break paramilitaries' power and hold them accountable,' Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, told reporters. 'Until Colombia demonstrates a credible shift in approach and real sustained results in dismantling the paramilitaries, trade unionists will remain vulnerable to persecution by these vicious groups.'

Human rights groups say the Colombian government has been complicit in attacks on trade unionists by right-wing paramilitary organizations supported by the Alvaro Uribe administration.

In a statement to the press on the impact of the agreement on Afro-Colombians, Nicole Lee, executive director of TransAfrica Forum, said, 'Afro-Colombian organizations have stated their opposition to the FTA but their voices have been stifled, and their communities harassed and attacked.'

She concluded, 'The FTA will legalize the appropriation of constitutionally-protected collective territories by the government and corporate interests, furthering displacement, poverty and discrimination faced by these marginalized communities.'

Critics also believe the Bush administration removed Colombia from the State Department's terrorism list recently in a cynical move to ease human rights charges leveled against the Colombian government under Uribe.