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Congress should not pass trade deals, at least not in Latin America

Editor's Note: This piece was written in response to a Letter to the Editor from the Stevens County Farm Bureau published last week, titled "Congress should pass trade deals."

According to the online CIA Factbook, Colombia is the "world's leading coca cultivator," and the country "supplies cocaine to nearly all of the US market and the great majority of other international drug markets." The CIA says Panama is a "major cocaine transshipment point and primary money-laundering center for narcotics revenue." Do we wish to have free-trade with the major drug dealing countries of our hemisphere?

According to a Carnegie Report for the U.S. Department of State, "agricultural trade liberalization linked to NAFTA is the single most significant factor in the loss of agricultural jobs in Mexico." So if free-trade with Colombia would cause even more farmers there to lose their lands and jobs, they will probably be even more inclined to join in the drug production. Where do you think these poor farmers will go if they lose their jobs? Might they not exacerbate the immigration problem here?

According to the CIA website, 18 percent of the labor force in Colombia and 4.6 percent of Panamanians are agriculture workers. So, this free trade agreement could potentially negatively affect over 7 million farmers and peasants in those countries. The CIA says that 45.5 percent of people in Colombia live below the poverty line and 30 percent are poor in Panama. Are they going to be able to afford U.S. food exports?

The human rights group Amnesty International reported that three peasant farmers were tortured and hacked to death by paramilitary groups a year ago. Unfortunately, many of these armed groups still have support from the Colombian government. The National Trade Union School of Colombia reported that 51 trade union members were murdered by armed groups during 2010. Do we want to have free-trade with a government that is accused of colluding with paramilitary groups that kill peasant farmers and union workers?

In July 2010 in Panama, over 700 farm workers were injured and four killed by police on a plantation while protested working conditions. No one has been brought to justice in the Panamanian Government.

The Carnegie Report also concluded that "NAFTA has caused either no net change in employment or a very small net gain of jobs [in the U.S.]." The Stevens County Farm Bureau estimates this trade agreement would provide "nearly 900 additional jobs in Minnesota" and "22,000 U.S. jobs." Compare this with the negative effects on millions of farmers and peasants in Colombia and Panama, besides potentially increasing drug production, immigration issues, and assisting governments that are implicated in abusing and torturing farm workers, peasants and union leaders.

Local farmers please ask yourselves, has NAFTA greatly benefitted you since 1994? Will a new trade agreement really help local farmers in the U.S., or is it simply being promoted by huge agribusiness monopolies in order to bring them greater profits at the expense of the little guys? And if a trade agreement really would help you to that extent, what would its real cost be to our society and farmers in other countries?

William Straub is a librarian at the University of Minnesota, Morris. These views are his own and do not reflect those of the university as a whole.