NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 20, 2008

In last week's final presidential debate with John McCain, Barack Obama defended his opposition to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement this way: "The history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders have been targeted for assassination, on a fairly consistent basis, and there have not been any prosecutions."  Among the many falsehoods in this Presidential campaign, this is one of the worst, says the Wall Street Journal.

It is true that Colombia has a history of violence, but since President Álvaro Uribe took office in 2002, that violence has been substantially reduced.  The homicide rate through the end of 2007 was down by 40.4 percent and the rate among union members was down almost 87 percent.  There is nothing "consistent" about a drop to 26 union member murders in 2007 from 155 in 2000, says the Journal.

As for prosecutions:

  • In union-member killings, there were zero convictions from 1991-2000 and one in 2001.
  • But from 2002-2007, there were 80.
  • According to the Colombian attorney general's office, 29 percent of those murders were "found to have been results of theft, petty crime and random violence unrelated to union activity."

Uribe has nonetheless created a special investigative unit for crimes against union members, and he expanded a special government protection program for unions.

  • More broadly, in 2004 Uribe pushed through congress a judicial reform that has reduced the average time needed to issue an indictment for a homicide to 50 days from 493.
  • He also increased the budget for the attorney general's office to $598 million in 2008, from $346 million in 2002 -- a 73 percent increase.

If Colombia hopes to keep spending on judicial improvements and better law enforcement, it needs an expanding economy.  In addition to misrepresenting the country's progress on reducing violence, Obama has never explained how denying Colombians the FTA will help the country reduce violence. Maybe this is because he knows he's merely repeating union distortions, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "Obama Makes It Up; Repeating Union Distortions," Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2008.

For text:


Browse more articles on Economic Issues