The Colombia Free Trade Bill - Shrillary on the Horns of an Obama crafted dilemma and how buying a Coke can help asassinate a Union leader in Bogota
President Aribe of Colombia was quoted in the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo on 2nd of April ''Deploro que el senador Obama, aspirando a ser presidente de E. U., ignore los esfuerzos de Colombia", - ' ' I deplore that Senator Obama , who wants to be President of the The United States , ignores the efforts of Colombia. "
In an interview with CongressDaily, Commerce Undersecretary for International Trade Christopher Padilla reinforced recent comments by Trade Representative Schwab that President Bush is preparing to send the Colombia Free Trade Aagreement implementing legislation "immediately or very shortly" after lawmakers return from the spring recess. Schwab is currently with a party of Congressmen in Colombia since April 4th. This treaty has all sorts of ramifications, for example Pharmaceutical companies will get exclusive patent rights, getting 20-year monopoly rights to market drugs in Colombia—the sort of of provisions that have driven up drug prices in the U.S. Generic drugs will effectively be banned for ten years
Aribe's remarks were a public response to Obama's remarks in Philadelphia that he would not support a Free Trade Treaty that President Bush was anxious for Comgress to approve.Obama added that " the violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements"
Then he widened his appeal ..."So you can trust me when I say that whatever trade deals we negotiate when I’m president will be good for American workers, and that they’ll have strong labor and environmental protections that we’ll enforce."
Shrillary of course also opposes the agreement and therefore it was curious that Aribe had singled out the Illinois Senator for criticism.
On the 4th of April the Wall Street Journal pointed out that Mark Penn, a senior adviser to Shrillary had on Monday March 30th met the Colombian Ambassador to the US.
Now Mr Penn is not only Shrillary's adviser (which his firm Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, has already billed her campaign with more than US$10 Mn) he is also CEO of chief executive of Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, a massive (and secretive) lobbying / PR outfit who include companies like Blackwater and Microsoft in their extensive portfolio. They also have a US$300,000 a year retainer with Aribe's narco state to help seal the Free Trade deal.
So on Sunday Shrillary's office had to announce that Mark Penn "had asked to give up his role".
Then on Sunday we got..."The Colombian Government announces its decision to terminate the contract with Burson-Marsteller. This firm conducts public relations and communications consulting services on behalf of Colombia in the United States for the approval of the Free Trade Agreement and the continuation of Plan Colombia."
To lose one client is bad, but to lose 2 in a weekend looks like carelessness.
But Aribe has other workers in this murky pool of influence peddling ...Glover Park Group, a fast-growing firm of which the founding brains were former Clinton White House aides including Joe Lockhart, who was chief spokesman for the president. (Howard Wolfson, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign communications director, was a partner at the firm but has taken a leave of absence.)
Bill Danvers another Clintonian aide of Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland & Stewart is also on the take as is Andrew Samet, a deputy secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, has been hired under yet another lobbying contract.
Now why was Obama so concerned about the union workers in Colombia? Well being a union organiser in Colombia where official unemployment is 20% is a very hazardous occupation, over 600 have been kiled since 2002 - journalists are regularly assassinated as well.
For example on March 22, 2008, Adolfo Gonzalez Montes, a Colombian coal miner and leader of the union SINTRACARBON, was assassinated in his home, leaving behind his wife and children. Adolfo Gonzalez Montes is reported to be the 13th unionist murdered in Colombia this year, so the mounting toll may mean they kill more workers representatives than the 40 they killed last year. See "Extrajudicial slayings on rise in Colombia" Los Angeles Times March 21st 2008
A major abuser of workers, their rights and alleged user of paramilitary muscle to "organise" their workers in bottling plants is Olympics co-sponsor Coca Cola.
In July 2001 the United Steelworkers of America and the International Labor Rights Fund (www.laborrights.org) filed a lawsuit on behalf of SINALTRAINAL(National Union of Food Industry Workers), several of its members and the estate of Isidro Gil, one of its murdered officers. The lawsuit and campaign aim to force Coca-Cola to prevent further bloodshed and to provide safe working conditions.
Nothing has resulted but a slow and insidious student led campaign has resulted in many Universities shedding contacts with Coca Cola for everything from sports facilities to coke machines on campus.
In April 2006 The University of Michigan, New York University and several other institutions in the U.S., Canada and Europe severed relationships with The Coca-Cola Company because Coca-Cola would not agree to an independent third party investigation of allegations of human rights, labor and environmental abuses by its bottlers in Colombia and India.
Yesterday the University of North Carolina student newspaper "the Daily Tar heel" ran an article about the the University's Department of Athletics funding from Coca-Cola and want to follow New York University and all three Rutgers University campuses, who have banned Coke vending machines or cancelled exclusive contracts with Coca-Cola.
A 46 page campaign document is available detailing the campaign against Coke which has been prepared by United Students Against Sweatshops
From destroying water systems in Kerala India - resulting in the closure of their Plachimada Plant since March 2004 to the mass sacking in May 2005 at the Yenibosa plant of Anadolu Endüstri Holding A.Ş , Coca-Cola’s Turkish partner .
Or take Sudan .... U.S. firms have been barred from doing business in Sudan since 1997.The United States has listed Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993.... yet Jeffrey Gettleman reported in The New York Times (10/24/06) "In 2002, Sudanese investors opened a new Coca-Cola factory, with Coke syrup legally exported to Sudan under an exemption for food and medicine. The $140-million plant churns out 100,000 bottles of Coke, Sprite and Fanta per hour..."
Yet gum arabic is also exempted from such regulations, and it is the number one export of Sudan... and an essential component of Coke.
There is another connection too, the biggest shareholder in Coke is the Sage of Omahah, Warren Buffet (8.3% worth approx US$10Bn) he was also at one time a major investor in PetroChina Oil Company... described as the world's biggest company when it debuted on the stock exchange in November 2007 and tripled in value to over US£1 Trillion. By market capitalization, it is now worth more than the two previous global corporate front-runners, ExxonMobil and General Electric, combined .. it is also the major oil business in Sudan.
By the time of the IPO Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway had bailed out ,having seen an initial US$488Mn plump up nicely to US$3.3 Bn. Fidelity Investments also sold 90 % of their 4.5 million PetroChina shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
But both Buffett and Fidelity said their decisions were based purely on financial considerations and had nothing to do with activists. Oh No.