Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

How the Colombia Trade Agreement Accelerates Human Rights Abuses


In October of 2011, President Obama, over the objections of the U.S. and Colombian labor and human rights community, submitted the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) for passage by the U.S. Congress.   Congress quickly passed the FTA — which was originally negotiated by George W. Bush who was unable to obtain passage due largely to the protests of U.S. labor – and Obama signed the agreement into law.  At the time, those opposing this agreement argued that, just as NAFTA in Mexico and like policies toward Haiti, the FTA would lead, indeed by design, to the immiseration and mass displacement of rural peoples, especially Indigenous and Afro-Colombian.   The experience of the past year has proven these predictions to be correct.

Thus, as just publicized by, the well-respected Colombian human rights group known as the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) has reported that there were 83% more mass displacements in 2012 than in 2011, and that these displacements have disproportionately affected Colombia’s Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.  (1)  Overall, CODHES estimates that well over 259,000 Colombians were forcibly displaced in 2012.

As CODHES explains,

. . . the most vulnerable populations, including children, adolescents and families with women as heads of households, are disproportionately affected. Most especially, indigenous and black populations have been hit not only individually but as a collective to the extent that their physical and symbolic territories continue to be invaded by both legal and illegal armies that clandestinely work to further the interests of extractive industries and their territorial consolidation . . .

CODHES relates that children and adolescents affected by such invasions of their lands are also at “risk of recruitment or use as informants or logistical support by the armed groups,” and are also at risk of being raped by these same groups.

In terms of the “economic industries” threatening the land of the Indigenous and Afro-Colombians, CODHES relates that these are “multinational agribusiness and mining” corporations – that is, the very corporations whose interests the Colombia FTA was designed to support and advance.  CODHES explains that these corporations, and the conflicts they are fueling, are driving a number of indigenous groups [64 indigenous groups to be exact], including the Awa people, to the point of “physical and cultural extermination.”

At the same time, there is resistance to this process.   Thus, CODHES explains that the Nasa and Awa peoples have been demonstrating against the militarization of their territories and against the multi-national interests driving this militarization.  As CODHES reports,

indigenous communities undertook the harmonization of mining territories where, as in the case of Canoas where “a group of nearly 600 Indians came to where the machinery was and forced employees to leave.”

These actions are mechanisms to reassert indigenous autonomy over the territories, and therefore, are ways to keep their culture and defend their principles. However, the resistance to the imposition of war and the extractive economic model is considered a “threat” by the different actors.

Consequently, those that attempt to defend or re-claim their land are at great risk of violent retaliations.

Thus, as Amnesty International (AI) explains in a recent report entitled, “Transforming Pain Into Hope,” human rights defenders campaigning for the restitution of forcibly-seized land are at great risk of assassination, with 45 such defenders killed in 2011 alone. (2)  AI relates that “most attacks on defenders campaigning for justice in cases of human rights abuses and for the return of land misappropriated have been attributed to paramilitary groups” aligned with the Colombian state.  One such paramilitary group is indeed known as the “Anti-Land Restitution Army.”  AI notes that the Colombian state, despite all evidence to the contrary, denies the existence of these paramilitary groups (a.k.a., death squads).

AI also acknowledges that “[t]he seriousness of the attacks against this group of defenders in large part reflects the enormous economic and strategic interests in certain territories.”   AI explains that “the failure of the government to recognize the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders leaves them at the mercy of powerful, violent vested interests emboldened by the knowledge that they will probably never be held to account for their actions.  In some cases active state collusion with those committing human rights violations increases the dangers to defenders almost to the point of certain attack.”

As AI, concludes, in Colombia, “millions of hectares of land have been appropriated, often through violence,” and 5 million people have been driven from their homes in the process, making Colombia the world leader in terms of internally displaced peoples.   And, while one would think that things could not get much worse, the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (and a similar agreement between Canada and Colombia) is accelerating this process of mass, forced displacements at a staggering pace.  As a consequence, indigenous tribes and Afro-Colombian communities are being pushed to the point of extinction, meaning that these trade policies, backed by massive military assistance, are indeed genocidal.

And yet, the outcry in this country is faint at best.  And this is so, as Edward Herman and David Peterson detailed in The Politics of Genocide, because this genocide is viewed as “constructive” by our political and economic rulers.  It is this cynical view of the world, with all of its horrific consequences, which we must struggle against.

Daniel Kovalik is Senior Associate General Counsel of the United Steelworkers (USW), and teaches international human rights law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.


(1)    You can find CODHES’s report, in Spanish, here:

(2)   Amnesty International’s report is here:

Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials