Why Afro-Colombians Oppose the Colombia FTA

Marino Cordoba, founder of the Association of Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES), submitted this post as a guest blogger for The Hill.

The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is considered a non-starter in the U.S. Congress because the country is the world's deadliest for union activists. Less known, but equally disturbing is the systematic violence now confronting Afro-Colombians.

African descendants comprise 26% of Colombia’s population. As with other African descendants, we face racial discrimination which results in economic hardships far worse than those experienced by the average Colombian. However in Colombia, a vibrant 1980s civil rights movement won full recognition of our cultural rights and collective ownership and community control of our territories and natural resources. The 1991 Colombian Constitution and the landmark Law 70 explicitly enshrine these rights and recognize official democratic Afro-Colombian governance structures, similar to those of your Indian tribes.

The administration of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has worked consistently to undermine our hard-won civil rights and our control of our territories. Systematic violence against our people and assassinations of our leaders continue unabated to this day.

At the end of 2007, angered by the strong opposition of the majority of Afro-Colombian communities to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA,) Uribe created a new Commission in Colombia that directly challenges our legal governance structure.

Cynically dubbed the Commission for the Advancement of Afro-Colombian People, it would undermine our communities’ ability to advance development strategies chosen by our people that comport with our needs and that help even the economic playing field.

Obviously, our official governance structure and our grassroots organizations oppose this new Commission. Despite this, President George Bush and other U.S. Uribe allies, such as Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), and the vast array of lobbying firms hired by the Uribe government are now trying to tout this outrageous Commission as evidence that Afro- Colombian concerns are being addressed as they push to pass the FTA.

Don’t be fooled. President Uribe, the Bush Administration and Congressman Meeks may not like what authentic Afro-Colombian representatives are saying, but our legitimate governing bodies vigorously oppose the FTA, as well as other efforts by Uribe to impose natural resource exploitation projects in our territories without our consent.

Because the Colombian law is on our side, wealthy interests have employed illegal means to physically remove us. Joint operations between the Colombian military and illegal terrorist paramilitary organizations like the “Operation Genesis

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