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It is not yet time for Congress to ratify the United States-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

As you note, in response to American pressure, last year Colombia established a specialized group of prosecutors to focus on thousands of unsolved killings of trade unionists, and this group is making some headway.

But it is naïve to assume that real progress will continue without sustained pressure. Once the trade pact is ratified, the main incentive for President Álvaro Uribe’s administration — which has stigmatized unionists as terrorists — to support these investigations will vanish.

Your proposal to keep the pressure on through the “powerful tool” of conditions on military aid won’t do the trick: American administrations from both parties have consistently failed to enforce existing human rights conditions on such assistance.

Moreover, this is not just about using the trade agreement as leverage to improve human rights. It’s about the fundamental principle that free trade should be premised on respect for workers’ rights.

Colombia’s workers today cannot exercise their rights without fear of being killed. The United States should not grant permanent duty-free access to goods produced under these circumstances.

Colombia must first show a meaningful change over time in the pattern of anti-union violence and impunity.

Jose Miguel Vivanco
Americas Director
Human Rights Watch
Washington, April 12, 2008

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