Democrats question Colombia neo-liberalism

No one expects the Democrats to set the world ablaze with a radical agenda, but it does make a difference that they won the mid-term elections. Within days, we have an example of why.

President Uribe of Colombia, a man who paramilitaries referred to as “our candidate”, is desperately lobbying in Washington. The reason is to protect the Free Trade Treaty that Colombia and the US have signed, but which hasn’t yet been ratified.

The treaty is unpopular among the country’s many poor citizens despite a massive government propaganda effort, with TV programmes about how great the it would be, and the works.

The reason is that it would open up even further Colombia’s massive agricultural and mineralĀ resources so that big business can make even more money out of the deeply divided country. This is already under way and has caused the country to lose its self sufficiency in food due to exports of environmentally destructive plants such as oil palm.

Reports now say that some Democrats are now threatening to vote against ratification, which is why Uribe has made the dash.

The treaty may pass, but it’s worth remembering that this would never have been a question under the Republicans.


12 Responses to Democrats question Colombia neo-liberalism

  1. B4L says:

    This is pretty depressing: the Democrats ought to want Colombia to become richer and develop a legitimate economy, rather than pander to economic nationalism.

  2. Thomas says:

    Huh? Richer and freerer? Rich as in the big US multinationals filling their boots? Freerer as in more power for the paramilitaries that back Uribe? I don’t know what you mean by legitimate, but I dont think think stripping Colombia bare is something we should support.

  3. Matthew Stiles says:

    Well, the whole of the organised Colombian Labour Movement and the left party, PDA, is against the Free Trade Treaty as well. I would argue that being against the treaty is being against neo-liberalism and for international solidarity. There is a good article on this by Toni Solo at
    Also a very good one by Colombian politician Jorge Enrique Robledo Castillo at

  4. B4L says:

    > but I dont think think stripping Colombia bare is something we should support.

    If you’re referring to natural resources, you can either (a) not use them because you’d prefer to stay poor, or are ignorant of economics, (b) try to use them but be stopped by other countries’ trade restrictions, or (c) develop profitable industries that pay taxes and pay salaries, rather than a black economy that wastes money through crime and corruption.

  5. Thomas says:

    > or (c) develop profitable industries that pay taxes and pay salaries

    And you think that this can only be done by US multinationals, with the backing of paramilitaries (who happen, btw, to assasinate local trade unionists at a rate unsurpassed anywhere else in the world)?

    I may seem ignorant about economics, but you seem to be in need of catching up on the human rights situation in that bit of the globe.

    There is, I believe, a link the TUC Justice for Colombia campaign on the side bar.

  6. B4L says:

    I’d prefer multilateral trade deals – bilateral is slightly better than nothing – but this is all for nought if Colombia’s government has its own self-interest at heart. If it is indeed a legitimate government, not one that embezzles or attacks its own people, good; if not, it should be condemned, but imposing trade restrictions – which are never to the benefit of either party – won’t help change that political culture.

    Whether it’s US companies or Colombian, ‘multinational’ or otherwise, creating real jobs and specialising the economy can only be a good thing.

    I’m not suggesting you’re ignorant about economics, BTW, though I’m not too sure about the Democrats – not while they’re still in populist mode, anyway.

  7. Benjamin says:


    Economic nationalism? How do you think the US got to its current position – and maintains it?

  8. Thomas says:

    Always backing free trade regardless of the terms is about as dim as always backing protectionism. Colombia is being offered a shockingly bad deal and shouldn’t take it. If they get offered a good deal that would mean fair and free trade, then sure go for it. But to say that trade union opponents of this lop-sided deal are “economic nationalists” seems to suggest you know something about economics but not much about Colombia.

  9. B4L – if you want some background on this, it’s worth looking at Adam Isaacson’s blog. He did a very good analysis on Democratic policy in September

  10. B4L says:

    I thought we were talking about trade liberalisation, rather than either military or economic aid – two separate issues. Irrespective of any other changes, the removal of trade barriers will make both countries richer in the long term, whether they do this unilaterally (which, in fact, would be ideal), or they call it a ‘deal’ and try to wrap it up with other agreements.

    Benjy, you seem to think I’m here to defend the USA: they should liberalise more, and give the poor of the world a look in. Voters and producers, however, (wherever they are) don’t always have the good of the entire economy at heart, and the Democrats seem even less likely to try to sell this at home.

  11. B4L – there’s some stuff about the TLC (Free Trade Treaty) towards the bottom of the piece.

    The Colombian trade unionists I’ve spoken to (quite a few) have said that they back multi-lateral trade liberalisation, but that they do not support the bi-lateral deals like the TLC. The results of the bi-lateral arrangements they have with the US have been an increase in economic activity of the “wrong sort”. That’s to say lots of cash crops that give little benefit to the peasants who are put out of business by subsidised US crops.

    They end up producing one of the cash crops like oil palm, flowers or bananas, where the plantation owners are big multi-nationals like Dole, which won’t allow trade unions and much of the money made just goes back to the parent companies, so you don’t even get much of a multiplier effect.

    If the treaties that encourage this are under attack, meaning that people like Uribe have to rely on multi-lateral fora where there’s greater human rights pressure on them, then I think it’s a good thing.

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