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Freddy on Free Trade: An Interview with Our Speaker

As Freddy Caicedo, Colombian human rights organizer, prepares to embark on our October 6-25 speaker tour, he takes time to respond to a few questions about the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the focus of the tour.  To hear Freddy speak near you, check out the tour schedule.

WFP:  What is your primary reason for going on the tour—why travel so far to talk with people in the US about the free trade agreement?  

FC:  A fundamental objective of the tour is to strengthen the ties of solidarity between the people of Colombia and the people of the United States.  In so doing, I want to share with the people of the United States that in our country, the people--indigenous communities, Afro-Colombian groups, small-scale farmers, unions, women’s organizations, student and youth organizations, and human rights groups--do not want the FTA.  The FTA is a reward for the factory owners, the large landholders, the bankers, the narco-traffickers and soldiers who have gained their wealth and power at the cost of the life, dignity, and human rights of our people.  While the FTA would benefit the criminal and corrupt, it would violate the rights of our communities and of our Mother Earth.  

WFP: What is the most important thing people in the US should understand about the FTA?  

FC:  First, they should know that the free trade agreement is an agreement between the elites of both countries--in the drafting of the agreement, our communities have not been listened to or respected.  As such, it’s not an agreement, but an imposition.  Second, it is an economic strategy that would enrich the families of the elite but ruin rural communities and small business owners, while trampling the rights of workers.  As such, it’s not “free,” but rather a boost to the oligopoly of the national elite and multinational corporations.  Third, it would facilitate the exportation of natural resources—agriculture, mining, and energy.  It would diminish the availability of food for our people while prioritizing biofuels--the production of food for machines.  Furthermore, the FTA would facilitate large-scale exploitation of our natural resources, such as water, gold, coal, and oil, relying on paramilitary terror to displace our communities.  

WFP:  What have you and other Colombian groups been doing to resist the FTA?  

FC:  We have undertaken different actions that I would put into three categories.  First, actions aimed at our communities—we educate our communities about the content of the agreement and its potential impacts on the life of our people.  We also encourage the communities to take on their own community-strengthening projects, including initiatives in organic agriculture, environmental care, and responsible consumption.   Second, actions aimed at the government and large economic powers—we do marches, strikes, lobbying, blockades, and other forms of mobilization.  Third, actions aimed at the international community, especially religious, social, and human rights organizations in the United States—these organizations help us share our points of view with US government officials.  One such group is Witness for Peace.  

WFP:  Are there people close to you who have received threats for working against the FTA?  

FC:  Many organizations—indigenous, union, Afro-Colombian, religious, women’s, and human rights organizations—have received direct threats via calls, letters, and emails.  Other threats are more general, such as when they publish a threat against many organizations on the Internet.  I want to emphasize that some functionaries of the Colombian government, including the highest officials of the executive branch, have worsened the situation by calling these organizations “terrorists.”  These accusations have no basis—the groups are stigmatized for having opposed the policies we consider unjust.  Unfortunately, many of these threats are carried out—42 unionists have been assassinated so far this year  Meanwhile, deaths in indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and farming communities continue.  The work of human rights organizations in some areas has become extremely difficult.  

WFP:  Why do you continue organizing against the FTA amidst such persistent threats?  

FC:  I could say many things, but I believe it becomes clear if I tell you that after carefully studying the content of the FTA, examining the results that such policies have had in other countries and the impacts that less weighty policies have had in our own country, we know that if the FTA is approved, the death of our communities will not only be due to paramilitary action.  If it is approved, then hunger, misery, poverty, unemployment, and social violence will provoke the death of thousands of people.  It is very sad that in a country where there is sufficient land to cultivate and where enough food is produced, more than 50 children have died of hunger in recent months in the department of Chocó.  Meanwhile, our best lands produce food for cars—biofuels.  With the FTA approved, our human rights would be converted into mere marketable services, worsening this situation and that of labor rights, education, health, and housing.  Finally, the FTA would provoke the destruction of a key part of the environmental reserve of the Amazonas and Chocó departments, territories eminently rich in environmental terms and of great importance for humanity.  The FTA would not only kill humans, but also Mother Earth and the culture of our people.  

WFP:  Currently, there are about 80 Colombians in Washington, DC lobbying the US Congress to approve the FTA.  The Colombian government has organized and financed this massive effort.  If the FTA is bad for Colombia, why does the Colombian government have so much interest in seeing it approved?  

FC:  The FTA is the most important business objective for the powerful people of my country, in addition to numerous foreign companies that do business in Colombia.  With complete assurance I can tell you that it is the business opportunity of the century for bankers, factory owners, ranchers, marketers, large-landowners, and narco-traffickers.  These families will do all that is necessary to have the FTA approved, spending millions of dollars daily on lobbying efforts.  They recruit indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, unionists, academics, and NGO representatives to back their aspirations, and people from these sectors are among those lobbying in the US right now.  For me, those people are selling their dignity; they are selling their people for a pittance; they have abandoned the true interests of their communities.  Those who are going to lobby are not the majority of indigenous people, of Afro-Colombians, of unionists, or of human rights organizations.  The majority of people in those sectors are opposed to the FTA, but we do not have the money to launch such a large lobbying campaign in the United States.  The government of my country does not represent the interests of my people; it represents the interests of the large economic powers and multinational corporations.