This is an open letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis from union member and Witness for Peace board member John Walsh. It comes after President Obama and Colombian President Santos announced this weekend that the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement will be implemented next month, despite serious concerns over labor rights and violence against workers in Colombia. Secretary Solis said Colombia had made "remarkable progress" on labor rights issues.
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis:
As a human being, as a union member who has twice gone to Colombia, and as a citizen of the United States I am dismayed that the administration of which you are part deems the murder of 30 unionists and 49 human rights defenders during 2011 in Colombia as acceptable, such that the bilateral free trade agreement will take effect May 15th. Making matters worse, the vast majority of these murders have been committed with impunity, calling into serious doubt the attitude of Colombian authorities toward protecting the basic right to life of the people of that country.
A small number of already wealthy people will benefit from the free trade agreement, while a large number of working class Colombians – and North Americans – will suffer the loss of their livelihoods, their homes, and perhaps their lives. In the case of Guatemala, killings abated while CAFTA was under consideration, but then soared after it was in place. We have reason to fear the same in Colombia.
I implore you to do your utmost to safeguard the lives of working class Colombians – not only to stop the killings, but to seek justice in the workplaces, not mere words on paper. President Obama’s administration needs to find a moral compass, and to refuse to countenance the murder of our sisters and brothers.