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On August 15, 2011, the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement – a highly protectionist corporate-driven agreement (like all “free trade” agreements) – came into effect. The agreement was reached in 2008, receiving “royal assent” in 2010, and is sure to benefit major corporations and help finance a state which is responsible for the greatest human rights violations in the Western Hemisphere. Canada’s top five exports to Colombia include wheat, newsprint and paper, machinery and equipment, dump trucks as well as beans, peas, and lentils. Colombia’s top five exports to Canada include coal, coffee, bananas, fuel oil and cut flowers (note: this list excludes illicit trade products like cocaine, of which Colombia is a major global exporter).
As critics of the deal pointed to Colombia’s record on human rights abuses, Stephen Harper commented, “No good purpose is served in this country or in the United States by anybody who is standing in the way of the development of the prosperity of Colombia,” by which he means to say that human rights are irrelevant so long as multinational corporations are making large profits. And indeed, policies fit that paradigm very well. Harper added: “Colombia is a wonderful country with great possibility and great ambition. And we need to be encouraging that every step of the way. That’s why we have made this a priority to get this deal done. We can’t block the progress of a country like this for protectionist reasons.” In this sense, the word “protectionist” refers to any impediments, regulations, or barriers to the unhindered exploitation and plundering of a country by multinational corporations. When agreements are protectionist in favour of corporations, securing and enforcing their unhindered monopolization of markets and exploitation of resources, this is called “free trade.”
With more than 70 Canadian corporations in Colombia, from oil and mining to finance, the agreement will open up more access for major companies. For those who mention human rights abuses, Harper had this to say: “I think there are protectionist forces in our country and in the United States that don’t care about development and prosperity in this part of the world. And that’s unfortunate.” Chris Spaulding of Talisman Energy, a Canadian corporation doing business in Colombia, commented that, “It’s very business friendly. They want foreign investment. The labor force is very good. The resources are there.”
According to the Globe and Mail, Colombia has “near bullet-proof potential for rapid growth,” due to low wages, abundant resources, and with the return of “order” (a euphemism for state oppression and control), though the country still has a high murder rate, five times the rate of the United States. Colombia not only signed a free trade agreement with Canada, but also with the U.S., and has received top rates from the World Bank for fostering a good “business climate.” Scotiabank, one of Canada’s big five banks, made a $1 billion purchase of a 51% stake in Colombia’s fifth largest bank, Banco Colpatria. Rick Waugh, the CEO of Scotiabank, declared that, “Colombia is very important to us.”
Toronto-based mining company Gran Colombia Gold Corp has been seeking to remove an entire town, a 500-year old community, to make way for an open-pit mine. When the Colombian government was preparing to displace the town, villagers in the community formed a committee to defend themselves. One of the organizers, a local priest, Father José Reinel Restrepo, publicly denounced the plan to move the town for the benefit of a foreign corporation, even giving television interviews in which he denounced “Canadian imperialism.” He explained: “If they are going to drive me out of here, I would tell them they would have to expel me by way of bullets or machetes – but they can’t oblige me to leave.” Four days later, Father Restrepo was shot dead while traveling to visit his family.