The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement currently before the House of Commons Trade Committee has all of the elements of a fast-paced action novel.
In the last week alone, breaking news of a forged letter of support from Canadian activist Maude Barlow was distributed to all Liberal MP's and there were emerging allegations of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez's brother, Santiago, being directly involved in brutal murders by the government`s paramilitary forces. It should be enough to put the scandals around the agreement on pages of the nation`s newspapers.
So why are Canada's big corporate media refusing to pay attention and cover the issue?
Certainly the lack of coverage has not been for a lack of public interest. I have attended public meetings on Canada-Colombia FTA that have been held by local organizations throughout the country. Standing-room only crowds have come out. Canadians have come because they are interested in knowing the truth.
Thousands of letters and emails have come in to MPs' offices, particularly to Liberal MPs who have once again compromised on Canada's proud history of defending against human rights abuses to satisfy big business. Ten of thousands of Canadians have signed petitions. Few issues have galvanized the public as much, despite a near-total blackout from Canada`s corporate media.
The recent disclosures of direct involvement of Uribe's family in killings, the para-military thugs trained in their massacres, and murders of civilians at the Uribe family residence is something that should be front-and-center in a public, corporate media- permitted debate on this issue. The Conservative government has an official tough on crime stance. Yet, it is cozying up -- and providing a clear reward -- to one of the most brutal regimes on the planet. Not a single Conservative parliamentarian or commentator on Parliament Hill pointed out the obvious hypocrisy of rewarding a regime that has been so brutal in its treatment of its own citizenry and still maintains claims to be a proponent of human rights.
The lies of the Colombian government are widespread -- denying the abuses of their secret police, excusing the military killings of African Colombians and aboriginal Colombians, and pretending that labour organizers are killed in so called "love feuds." The lies are constant, unerring, and slick; yet the lies haven't been able to convince members of the US Congress that this new government in Colombia has any respect for human rights. Apparently, The Harper government and Ignatieff's Liberals are much more pliable.
There is more to the Canada-Colombia FTA than meets the eye. It will continue to be a part of public debate for some time to come, despite Conservative and Liberal attempts to cut off debate and to shut out the public.
It's a shame that Canada's corporate media refuses to face the task of reporting on fundamental human rights issue that affects lives in Colombia and has ignited widespread public interest here at home.
Peter Julian is the NDP Trade Critic and a Member of Parliament for Burnaby-New Westminster.
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