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July 19, 2007

What the PM Should have said in Colombia

A speech never delivered: What the PM should have said in Colombia.

Chris Arsenault
Published Thursday July 19th, 2007

On July 15, Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid his first visit to Bogota, Colombia where he met with that country's President Alvaro Uribe. This, according to [here] columnist Chris Arsenault, is the speech Prime Minister Harper should have given that day:

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

This is my first visit to Colombia -- my first time on the South America continent -- and I am very happy to be here.

Flying into this country was truly remarkable, I have never seen such lush jungle, so many contrasting shades of green. After taking a walk around the business district here in Bogota and meeting some of the Colombia people -- who are said to be among the happiest in the world -- it doesn't feel like there's a war raging in this country.

The New York based organization Human Rights Watch recently stated that "today Colombia presents the worst human rights and humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere." Spending time in Bogota, that seems hard to believe.
But it is a truth we all must recognize.

To your credit, President Uribe, today a sense of normalcy governs Colombia's cities, rather than the pervasive feelings of civil war that were present only a few years ago. For achieving these relative improvements in safety and security, the Colombian people hold you with high esteem. You have won two elections and have a popular approval rating of 70 per cent, twice as high as mine.

But I am told that three million Colombians are internally displaced, living as refugees within their own country because of violence. Thus, Colombia has more internally displaced refugees than any country outside of the Middle East and North Africa, a shocking, horrifying and rarely discussed reality.

Last year, Colombia again led the world in number of trade union leaders killed; 72 union leaders were murdered in 2006, an increase over the previous year.
As you likely know, President Uribe, most of the unionists were murdered by right-wing paramilitaries supposedly demobilized under your peace initiative.

Since 2000, Washington has poured $4.4 billion of military aide into your country, ostensibly to fight a 'war on drugs', a ludicrous concept if ever there was one. This military aide has further destabilized the country.

Aerial pesticide spraying to combat cocaine production has destroyed the livelihoods of many honest average farmers. Aerial spraying has irreparably damaged precious ecosystems. Yet more cocaine than ever is being produced.
It's time for a new drug strategy.

Canada's new government will pressure the American government to end the war on drugs. It's a war that cannot be won and Colombia showcases this.
While receiving large amounts of America military aide, President Uribe, you have refused to be "Washingston's man in the Andes." I commend you for this.

As everyone knows, Latin America is a continent on the move.
Integration, under progressive governnments which have been elected in almost every South American country, with the notable exception of Colombia, are forging a new course, based on continental solidarity rather than foreign domination.

I want to use this opportunity to change the direction of Canada's policy in the Americas. As Canada's new government, we have made some grave errors in our foreign policy by aligning ourselves too closely with a crumbling super-power.

Canada has played junior partner to American interests in this region for too long. We have been more focused on the profits of Canadian mining and oil companies rather than the well-being of the Latin American people.

As one small example, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) ran an $11 million project here in Colombia from 1997-2002 in order to "streamline" your country's mining and petroleum regulations. "From the beginning, the aim [of CIDA's mining project] was far from altruistic," wrote Maclean's magazine.

Because of a Canadian financed project, Colombia now has some of the most corporate friendly mining legislation in the Americas. Today, for most mining operations, the Colombian government cannot impose royalty taxes above 0.4 per cent.

Mining companies operating in Canada generally pay 10 times as much tax, giving the government revenue to invest in crucial public services that are lacking in many parts of Colombia.

Canada will no longer be engaged in such exploitative behaviour.
We will do our best to help foster new relations in the Americas, based on humanitarian concerns, not corporate profit.

Normally, I'd say 'God Bless Canada' as a way of concluding my speech, but I am not going to do that anymore. Leaders who mix church and state, politics and religion, should never be trusted.

Instead, I will thank you for listening and open myself up for questions.


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