Buenaventura, Colombia: Where Free Trade Meets Mass Graves

“The FTA would deepen the crisis that we are living here because the FTA is synonymous with privatization and privatization is synonymous with unemployment, unemployment is synonymous with poverty and misery and misery is synonymous with loss of autonomy and sovereignty for our people and as a country.” Danelly Estupiñan, Afro-Colombian activist in Buenaventura, Colombia on the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. (FTA).

In this excellent article, by Gimena Sanchez of WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America) and Kelly Nicholls of USOC (US Office on Colombia) and originally published in NACLA, the recently passed US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is seen through the lens of Buenaventura, Colombia’s major port and one of its’ most violent cities. Buenaventura citizens are primarily Afro-Colombians who face high rates of unemployment and poverty alongside brutal paramilitary violence, massacres, disappearances and now further displacement and misery due to the port expansion in preparation for the FTA. The article includes the themes of union busting and labour rights violations that jumped dramatically after the privatization of the port more than a decade ago.

Though smaller in nature than the US-Colombia FTA, the Canada-Colombia FTA will support the same forms of trade; promoting foreign investment and privatization over the needs and rights of local communities.

Buenaventure, Colombia; Credit: Josh Berson

CoDev’s Colombian partner, NOMADESC, works alongside Buenaventura communities to support their struggles to defend human rights, resist displacement and build positive futures. CoDev has visited and met with community leaders and activists from Buenaventura many times, most recently in October 2010 when we met with communities in nearby Malaga Bay who have been threatened with displacement in order to create a deep water port facility.

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