Hillary Clinton’s flip-flopping on NAFTA and the TPP have garnered justified criticism from left-wing progressives. While the Clinton free trade flip-flop is approaching the point of ubiquity, the mass majority of trade agreements end up enacted, regardless of how her position switches or “evolves”. The Colombian Free Trade Agreement, which was passed in 2011 when Clinton was Secretary of State, is no exception to this pattern.
During the 2008 campaign, Hillary denounced the plan, stating: “As I have said for months, I oppose the deal. I have spoken out against the deal, I will vote against the deal, and I will do everything I can to urge the Congress to reject the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.”
Come 2011 however, the tune had changed. In an email regarding a call to Democratic congressman Sandy Levin (one of many in which Clinton makes clear her wish that the agreement is passed), Clinton wrote: “I told him that at the rate we were going, Colombian workers were going to end up w the same or better rights than workers in Wisconsin and Indiana and, maybe even, Michigan.”
Clinton must have made a sight miscalculation, because between 2000 and 2010, Columbia has accounted for about 63% of murdered unionists globally and killed over 120 between 2011 and February of 2015 (only six of which have resulted in convictions). Dubbed the “union murder capital of the world” by multiple journalists and nonprofits, Columbia “has made little progress” on improving labor conditions since the passing of the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement according to advocacy group Justice for Colombia. The agreement’s human and labor rights obligations have been virtually ignored, as paramilitary groups linked to the Colombian security forces continue to kill with impunity.
Labeling unionists and labor activists “terrorists”, Colombian president Avaro Uribe fostered an anti-union atmosphere which persists to this day. On March 8th, it was reported by Justice for Colombia that a local Colombian miner was shot dead by the army as he was going about his work, and on March 10th (weeks before a nationwide labor strike was to take place) five labor activists from five different organizations were murdered, and another five received death threats (one of which was accompanied by a severed dog’s head).
For Colombian workers who were lucky enough to not get shot, reduced wages will likely cause them to be “forced out of their livelihoods” an Oxfam report states. It continues: “…the average income of 1.8 million grossly under-protected small farmers will fall by 16 percent. 400,000 farmers who now live below the minimum wage will see their incomes drop by up to 70 percent.”
In four different occasions between 2003 and 2007, a handful of Democratic Senators including Patrick Leahy, John Kerry, and signed a statement expressing public concern over the state of Colombian unions and the situation regarding human rights. On all such occasions, Hillary refused to sign.
At the same time Hillary was criticizing the trade deal for its human rights implications, she was refusing to sign a statement affirming those exact positions, only to change course within two years. Is there any doubt why 55% of Americans and nearly 20% of Democrats view Hillary as untrustworthy?
A surprisingly high number of undecided voters fall into the odd “first choice Bernie, second choice Trump” category. While one explanation is that the two candidates are simply “outsiders” who want to shake up the unsavory political system, a number of voters have offered a more substantive answer. An article in The Guardian states:
“Several [voters] said they found an affinity between the two candidates’ take on the economy, particularly trade. A male medical emergency technician, 36, from Chicago, said he had watched the devastation wrought on areas of the city by job losses that in his view had been caused by free trade. ‘Donald Trump is the only candidate besides Bernie Sanders who cares about curtailing Free Trade. This is my only reason for supporting him if he makes if to November and Clinton is the Democratic nominee.'”
News savvy voters can see for themselves that Hillary’s trade record is spotty at best, and Hillary can’t use the same sort of rhetoric that Sanders does in questioning trade without having to answer some uncomfortable questions. Voters who aren’t news savvy, but know to be skeptical of free trade agreements because of their own life experiences (such as unemployed manufacturers), will not look to Hillary for the kind of economic leadership that Trump and Sanders seem to be selling.
The Democratic nominee, likely Clinton, cannot afford to be outdone by Donald Trump on issues of free trade. Voters who are worried about labor rights must work with voters who are concerned about overseas job losses to hold Hillary’s feet to the fire regarding agreements which ruin lives and damage economies. Hillary decides which position to take on an issue the same way a weather vane decides which way to point; if it’s popular to oppose a trade deal, Clinton is opposed. With enough voters speaking out, hopefully we can see a Democratic nominee who is willing to right the wrongs of the US’s free trade agenda.