Obama Hesitant to Push for More Union Workers’ Rights in Colombia

July 31, 2012

To say it is difficult to be a union worker in Colombia would be a massive understatement. Ravaged by paramilitary violence and corrupt governments for almost 50 years, union workers in Colombia face unprecedented challenges; they are threatened and sometimes even killed for attempting to unionize and protect their rights. According to upsidedownworld.org, U.S. president Barack Obama has demonstrated what appears to be a lackadaisical attitude towards the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia that was passed by Congress in October of 2011, and would establish myriad workers’ labor rights through a Labor Action Plan (LAP). This LAP was a prerequisite for the enactment of the FTA (in other words, the FTA would not be implemented until all 37 points of the LAP were met by the Colombian government). Despite this, upsidedownworld.org reports that “the FTA came into full effect in mid-May, though only after President Barack Obama claimed, in April, that the Colombian government had already met its LAP-related commitments – just a year into what was expected to be a four-year plan.” This is untrue, as at least 9 of the 37 points have yet to be fulfilled. As Sánchez-Garzoli of the Washington Office on Latin America states, “Obama and (Colombian President Juan Manuel) Santos have clearly delivered for the multinational companies and commercial interests.” While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, “they must also keep their promises to the labour and human rights community. This is a matter of U.S. legislation as well, including specific protections for trade unions.” It appears there may be a lack of political will here.