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Colombian, Korean and Panamanian Activists Condemn White House Support for New "Free Trade" Deals

October 11, 2011

Organizers held a teach-in at Occupy Wall Street on Monday about "free trade agreements" with Colombia, Panama and South Korea now pending in Congress that will expand the market for national corporations and financial corporations from the United States. "Essentially, it tries to institute once more the things that caused this financial crisis in the first place," says Sukjong Hong, an organizer with Nodutdol for Korean Community Development. "It also opens the door to outsourcing more American jobs." Carlos Salamanca, member of AFSCME Local 372, adds that the Colombian free trade agreement is "the continuation of what’s going on in Colombia, supporting the government who are not doing anything to stop the killing of workers in Colombia, the union members, the human rights activists, and the persecution against the indigenous and Afro-Colombians’ leadership over there." [includes rush transcript]


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re here in Freedom Plaza, just around the corner from Wall Street, and a teach-in just finished up with three people who are here from three different countries talking about so-called free trade agreements. Why don’t you introduce yourselves and talk about where you’re from?

CARLOS SALAMANCA: My name, Carlos Salamanca, Mingas New York, DC 37 Local 372, a member, worker.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re from Colombia?

CARLOS SALAMANCA: From Colombia, yes.

SUKJONG HONG: Hi. My name is Sukjong Hong. And I’m with Nodutdol for Korean Community Development and an organization that’s national called Korean Americans for Fair Trade. And I’m a second-generation Korean American.

SUNYATA ALTENOR: My name is Sunyata Altenor. I live in the South Bronx. I work with the Latin American and Caribbean Community Center, and I’m from Panama.

AMY GOODMAN: You were here doing a teach-in on so-called free trade agreements. Talk about your concerns. There’s going to be a vote on them on Wednesday.

CARLOS SALAMANCA: Yes, this Wednesday, the House of Representatives will be vote on these three trade agreements. We are calling everyone to call the Congress people to vote no.

AMY GOODMAN: Why are you concerned about the agreement on Colombia?

CARLOS SALAMANCA: Basically because with this trade agreement, Colombia open and expand more the market for the multinational corporations and financial corporation from the United States. And it’s the continuation of what’s going on in Colombia, supporting the government who are not doing anything to stop the killing of workers in Colombia, the union members, the human rights activists, and the persecution against the indigenous and Afro-Colombians’ leadership over there.

AMY GOODMAN: South Korea?

SUKJONG HONG: Yes. Well, for myself and many Americans who are also tied to Korea, the free trade agreement with South Korea represents this—exactly the types of agreements that everyone here at Wall Street is opposed to. Basically, it bans the limit on the size of financial institutions. It bans any limit on capital flows. It bans deregulation—it bans any regulation on derivatives. So, essentially, it tries to institute once more the things that caused this financial crisis in the first place. And it also opens the door to outsourcing more American jobs. And it has caused a lot of depressing of the standards of life and of the laws in South Korea, as well. They had to lower their emissions standards. They had to lift their ban on GMOs. And they’re—

AMY GOODMAN: GMOs being...

SUKJONG HONG: On their GMOs—the GMOs, the genetically modified organisms. And a lot of—

AMY GOODMAN: Bioengineered foods?

SUKJONG HONG: Bioengineered foods. And basically, a lot of the laws that both Americans and Koreans have fought for are going to be—basically become meaningless in the face of these free trade agreements. And just last week, 10,000 people in South Korea went to the streets to protest these free trade deals. But both governments seem very intent on pressing forward. And I think not enough Americans know about the damage that these free trade agreements will cause, and really not really looking even in their own backyard at what NAFTA has done.

AMY GOODMAN: And Sunyata, talk about Panama.

SUNYATA ALTENOR: Sure. I think it’s great that we’re here at Occupy Wall Street, in particular, because the U.S. military has basically occupied much of Central America, and especially Panama, over the last several hundred years. And one of the things to remember with the administration, with the current administration in Panama, with President Martinelli, is that he has no restraint whatsoever over the country’s natural resources, passing a law earlier this year that opened up foreign investment in mining, and last year also passed a law that essentially weakened already decrepit labor standards in the country. And so, we’re dealing with a president in Panama who doesn’t respect workers, who doesn’t respect unions, and who really is more supporting big government and international business than developing his own workforce, and with the U.S. government, who is—or specifically the Obama administration, who’s been pushing really hard around these free trade agreements, where they can basically make it legal for capital to move around the world unregulated.

And the other thing about Panama is that it’s the second-largest tax haven in the world, so international corporations who do business there do business there because they avoid paying taxes. They do business there because they avoid paying a living wage, paying minimum wage or having even work environments that are healthy for the workers who are there, in order to make more profits. And so, you have an occupation happening in Panama by the current administration, an outside occupation again coming from the U.S., that has been there since 1989 when the U.S. invaded Panama and completely demolished their military and so weakened infrastructure. And, I mean, it’s just no good for anybody. It’s no good for the workers here in the U.S. It’s no good for the workers in Panama.

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