Free trade is a frequent topic in the contest for president. The term itself is misleading: people pay for our free trade policies. Plenty of stories can be told about how these policies have damaged people, families, and communities in the United States, especially in the Midwest. Plenty of stories can be told as well about the damage these policies have done to people, families, and communities in other countries.
For twenty-five years I have been supporter of the Ecumenical Refugee Council, Inc., a grassroots ministry based in Milwaukee that addresses human needs in several locations around the world. ECR is a shoe-string operation, channeling practically all its receipts to people in desperate circumstances. Its letters do not comment on politics or economics, but the latest one is an exception. Sallie Pettit, long-time ERC president, has this to say:
ERC remains deeply concerned about Columbia S.A. The information that we are receiving from our contacts there indicate that c. 80% of Columbia's population lives in grinding poverty, even though Columbia is considered a First World Country. Internal warfare continues to destroy the fabric of society there. We of ERC continue to support Sister Mercedes and her poverty programs in Bogota. Currently we of ERC are supporting all of our government and business leaders who oppose the United States-Columbia Free Trade Agreement. Many of us have seen or know first hand the adverse effects of "Free Trade" in other Latin American countries. We hope that you can find it in your hearts to join us in this opposition. There is an enormous amount of information on the net about the adverse effects of Free Trade Agreements on small farmers and small businessmen in Latin America.
The world is remarkably interconnected. Is this good news or bad news for poor and struggling people in other countries? Much of the answer depends on what we in the United States choose to do.