Free Trade Deal Won’t Strengthen Colombia’s Democracy Warn Canadian Election Monitors

For Immediate Release

Council of Canadians
Contact: 

Carleen Pickard, Council of Canadians (613) 301-8346; or
Barbara Wood, CUPE (604) 842-2747

Free Trade Deal Won’t Strengthen Colombia’s Democracy Warn Canadian Election Monitors

OTTAWA, Ontario - Canadians who were part of an international election monitoring mission
to Colombia say systematic human rights abuses, corruption and
escalating violence casts doubts on whether the country’s May
presidential vote will be free and fair.

“We’ve just provided Prime Minister Harper with a copy of our findings
which underline the need for an independent human rights assessment
before Canada moves forward with the controversial Colombia free trade
deal,” says Carleen Pickard of the Council of Canadians.

Pickard was one of four Canadians who spent 11 days monitoring
conditions on the ground in Colombia last month ahead of March 14
congressional elections where there were numerous complaints about
vote-buying and voter intimidation by right-wing paramilitary groups.

“Our first-hand experience contradicts claims the free trade deal will
strengthen Colombia’s democracy,” says Pickard. “We found widespread
evidence of human rights violations, corruption, resurgent paramilitary
groups, and drug violence.”

“There’s a climate of fear among the population,” adds Pickard, “which
makes basic democratic principles that Canadians take for granted – like
open debate, freedom of political association and participation in the
election process – extremely dangerous for Colombians to pursue.”

Another Canadian on the mission travelled to an area in Colombia where
there were 569 selective assassinations in 2009 – the highest number
ever recorded. “The victims were primarily local politicians and
community, indigenous, and union leaders,” says Barbara Wood, a
representative of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“A wide range of people told us the assassinations were carried out by
paramilitaries, despite claims from Colombia’s government that
paramilitary forces have been demobilized,” says Wood.

Wood says her group’s findings show the free trade deal being pursued by
Ottawa is not the way for Canada to be supporting democracy in
Colombia. “Instead, Canadian politicians should be carrying out an
independent human rights assessment and demanding fundamental reforms in
that country before moving forward with the trade deal.”

The monitoring mission was organized in conjunction with Misión de
Observación Electoral (MOE), a Colombian organization, and included 22
observers from the U.S., European Union, Mexico, Panama, and Australia.
Other Canadian representatives were Ricardo Miranda, also from CUPE, and
Tim Bood, an emergency room physician from Halifax.

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