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Colombia has a long history with powerful business interests allying themselves with paramilitary outfits to “silence opponents and displace rural populations living atop natural resources.” Under the guise of the “war on drugs,” Colombia’s military, with billions in “aid” from the United States, has co-operated with big business interests and criminal paramilitary groups, purportedly to fight rebel groups (notably FARC), but mostly to clear rural communities to allow for corporate plundering of the resources upon which they sit. In recent decades, some four million people have been displaced by such actions, leaving the country with Latin America’s “most inequitable distribution of wealth.” On top of that, Colombia is a major narco-state, with state, paramilitary and rebel groups all participating in the massive cocaine trade. Many historians have described Colombia as “the world’s most enduringly violent country,” with over five decades of constant internal warfare. With over 20 major Canadian companies holding major investments in Colombia, it’s no wonder that the World Bank rated the country as the best investment climate in Latin America.
The brand of “order” that the government of Colombia has enforced in recent years represents a continuation of the policies of several administrations before it. The human rights and humanitarian crisis in Colombia is “staggering in scale,” with millions displaced, killed, tortured, raped, kidnapped or “disappeared,” more than 280,000 people had to flee their homes in 2010 alone. State, paramilitary and rebel groups have all routinely been accused of vast human rights abuses and war crimes. While the new government of President Santos promised to prioritize human rights when he came to power in 2010, the reality, according to Amnesty International, was that “threats against and killings of leaders of displaced communities and of those seeking the return of lands misappropriated during the conflict, mainly by paramilitary groups, have increased during the Santos government.” In criminal investigations of human rights abuses, witnesses, victims, lawyers, and judges have continuously been threatened or even killed. Threats and murders have also increased for human rights activists, trade unionists, and community leaders.
Canadian law demands that the government table a human rights report for Parliament on the impact of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Instead of submitting the report, the Canadian government decided, in May of 2012, that it would not even adhere to Canadian law, and refused to submit any such report, instead stating that it would produce a report for May of 2013. With more than 259,000 people displaced from their homes in Colombia in 2011 (on top of the 280,000 displaced in 2010), human rights abuses and war crimes will continue, with the tacit (and perhaps active) cooperation of Canadian corporations, notably mining companies. The Canadian government has effectively given the green light for such abuses to continue. While Colombia’s Constitutional Court identified 34 Indigenous nations in the country that were in “grave danger of extinction,” Canadian indifference continued. Alex Neve, the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada declared that, “Canada must not turn its back on the human rights crisis in Colombia for yet another year… The crucial question that should not be postponed is what role is Canadian investment playing with regard to this emergency?” Neve added: “Failure to carry out a full impact assessment violates Canada’s responsibility of due diligence under international law and denies Canadian corporations working in Colombia the information they need to avoid implicating themselves in grave human rights violations.”
The website for the Canadian ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Trade declared that the Canada-Colombia FTA provided “a key boost for Canadian companies in five important sectors: agriculture, information and communication technologies, mining, oil and gas, and services.” Noting that Canada’s interest in the narco-state was “growing strongly,” the ministry website added that Colombia had “undergone important economic and legal reforms, spurring democracy and global direct investment.” The business climate, it declared, was “now stable and predictable, making Colombia a secure business partner and a solid investment destination.” With that in mind, Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay signed an agreement with the Colombian military in November of 2012 to strengthen its “military relationship with Colombia,” which MacKay stated, “represents a natural evolution in our relationship… And we look forward to continuing to build our ties with the Colombian Armed Forces.” No doubt, as they continue to displace hundreds of thousands of innocent people in order to clear the land for foreign corporations, and of course, to help advance the profits of the international illicit drug trade.