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article imageOp-Ed: Colombia – Free Trade Prospect or Harbour for Drugs and Kidnapping?

By Sykos Masters     Jul 5, 2008 in World
Although the recent rescue of kidnap victims from Colombia is cause for celebration, perhaps the time has come to re-examine free-trade negotiations. Drug trafficking, kidnapping, and an inability to combat crime must also be weighed in the equation.
July 2, 2008 – Breaking news reports that 15 hostages, victims of kidnapping in Colombia, had been rescued by Colombian authorities. Included in the those freed were: 3 Americans – Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell – who had been kidnapped in 2003; and Ingrid Betancourt, a past presidential candidate for Columbia, who was abducted in 2002.
Although intelligence leading to the successful mission had come from several sources, Colombian authorities were widely praised for their infiltration of FARC forces as part of the effort.
In contrast, on July 4 – The CBC reports that a Canadian, missing since late June, is now feared to have been kidnapped in Columbia.
Thomas Orland MacLean, 46, believed to be an electrical engineer from Ottawa, was last seen on the evening of June 26 along with his brother-in-law, a cattle rancher from Pereira, Colombia, named Jesus Salvador Aristizabal Zuluaga, said General Justo Eliseo Pena, commanding officer of the third division of the Colombian army.
Further information and speculation from the same General:
He said the mountains around Tulua and the Valle del Cauca region are known to be home to guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — or FARC, from its Spanish initials — an insurrectionist group that funds many of its activities by demanding ransoms for high-profile captives. ... [but], no group has claimed to have the two men and no ransom has been demanded, and both the army and the municipality are cautioning against jumping to the conclusion that FARC is involved, particularly because FARC members normally wear military uniforms.
It is clear that more needs to be done by Colombian authorities to root out and overcome the guerrillas in their own backyard. Compounding these atrocities is the ongoing inability (again locally) to put a strangle-hold on drug-trafficking from Columbia to other nations. Latest available statistics for drug-related crimes in Columbia are staggering:
• "world's leading coca cultivator" in 2005, supplying the majority of cocaine to the US at that time.
• "important supplier of heroin to the US market" in 2004, although the level of opium poppy cultivation had dropped from previous years.
• "[A] significant portion of non-US narcotics proceeds are either laundered or invested in Colombia through the black market peso exchange."
The last stat is most disturbing in view of the ongoing negotiations for free-trade between Columbia and the US—by extension, Canada would soon follow suit. This is a reasonable assumption, given that regional talks regarding the proposed 'Free Trade Area of the Americas' were only suspended in 2005, in that further attempts at summits have not been successful. To conclude that future discussion of this has been quashed would be naïve, at best.
As recently as April of this year, Sen. Clinton assured primary voters that she would strongly oppose, and defeat if possible, any free-trade agreement with Columbia. Sen. Obama, who was also in attendance at the function, was quick to add his disapproval of the proposed agreement. Until this successful rescue, there has been nary a peep from either him or Sen. McCain on this specific issue. Although, it is up for debate whether McCain was 'briefed' on the proposed action before or after the fact, both he and Obama have been quick to claim victory over FARC forces. Only time will tell whether the continued battle between government and guerrilla forces in Columbia will make it into their respective agendas.
The US already has free-trade agreements with Canada, Chile, and Peru, in addition to the wider DR-CAFTA (Central America). Canada has an additional agreement Costa Rica, while also currently negotiating with Columbia. Not to be forgotten are the interests of Mexico and the larger Caribbean in these trade deals.
Why are violent crime, drug trafficking, and human rights issues taking a back seat to negotiations that are only hoped to boost failing economies in some of these countries? Given the amount of aid – in finances and other resources – that is being given to less 'developed' countries in Central and South America, would it not be wise to simply stop and re-evaluate this rush to 'free-trade'?
At a time when sanctions are threatened against other nations with comparable histories of violence, crime, and abuse, this push towards growth in a global economy smacks of hubris and corporate greed. Surely the plight of ordinary citizens must take precedence of the perceived need to earn greater profits.
If not, I hold out little hope that the future leader of the US, or that of Canada, will have any success slowing down this process.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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