Colombian president to speak in secret
Unprecedented; Controversial trade pact on agenda
As opposition simmers over the Canada-Colombia free trade pact, President Alvaro Uribe will testify on Parliament Hill this week before a closed-door committee of MPs from which the public will be barred.
In an unprecedentedly secretive arrangement for a visiting foreign leader, Uribe will testify in camera, in a Centre Block hearing room tomorrow morning before MPs on the House of Commons international trade committee. Uribe will give an opening statement and the Liberal co-chairperson of the meeting will then preside over a question-and-answer session, a two-hour appearance in all.
However, the Colombian president's answers will remain out of the public domain, and will be heard only by MPs. No audio recording of his testimony is to be made so no transcript would be available later for the parliamentary record.
The Canada-Colombia free trade pact is widely opposed by non-governmental organizations and human rights groups, who accuse the Conservative government of negotiating it in secret and not giving enough consideration to Colombia's human rights record and its violent past as a narco-state.
However, the deal is expected to easily pass through Parliament because enough Liberal MPs support the deal.
"I think it's unacceptable that the president of Colombia would be meeting with members of a Canadian parliamentary standing committee without basic operational transparency," said Gauri Sreenivasan, policy co-ordinator of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), an umbrella group of development agencies that opposes the Colombia free trade pact.
"If he wants to have a dialogue with Canada and members of Parliament on that, it needs to be done on the record so it can be clear what evidence he is bringing forward on the Colombian human rights situation."
In an interview yesterday, Peter Kent, the minister of state of foreign affairs for the Americas, defended the deal, saying human rights had been duly considered.
Kent said the deal is back on Parliament's current legislative agenda, after being briefly removed, and that its passage was a priority.
Asked whether Uribe should be testifying in public, Kent said: "That's for him to decide."
Gerry Barr, the president of the CCIC, said the secretive nature of Uribe's committee appearance "sends a very eloquent message to Canadians about the nature of this agreement."
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