Colombian Unionists Targeted: Can Three Assassins Get a Government to do Their Dirty Deeds?

By Fred Hirsch  (

English: Poster against Coca-Cola for their ki...

English: Poster against Coca-Cola for their killing of unionists in Colombia, Fête de l’Humanité 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Colombian government is preparing to throw two union leaders to the mercy of paramilitary terrorists on the testimony of three murderers.

William Mendoza is President of the Food and Beverage Workers Union (Sinaltrainal) in Barrancabermeja, Santander in north central Colombia.  Juan Carlos Galvis is on the union’s

National Executive Board and President of the Santander branch of the CUT, the nation’s’ main labor federation.  I met them both when I was sent to Colombia by my local Union, Plumbers and Fitters Union, Local 393, on a labor delegation inquiring into the violence against trade unionists in 2002.

Colombia is internationally recognized as the most lethal nation in the world for trade unionists. More unionists are killed there than anywhere else in the world. William and Juan Carlos both live and work in Barrancabermeja, the location of the largest oil refinery in Colombia, on the shore of the Magdalena River.  Barranca, as the city is commonly called, is visibly under the authority of the Army, Navy and local police.  The locals, however recognize that the paramiltary death squads have firm political control.  Juan Carlos has stated, “The Paras do whatever they want here in Barranca…They have the political power. They have the economic power.”  It is essentially, he says, “a totalitarian agenda.”  William defines the totalitarian agenda as “A regime in which the common denominator will be terror, hunger and misery for the people so that the rich can become even richer.”

Both Juan Carlos and William  represent the workers in Barranca’s Coca Cola plant.  They have been targeted with death threats since 2001.  They, and others like them are labeled “subversives” by the paramilitaries, linked falsely to the guerilla movement, and are labeled  “military targets.”

William told me that the violence against Sinaltrainal is based in Coke’s determination to force the union out of its bottling plants:  “They want to impose casual labor, part-time labor, and drive down our wages and working conditions.” Continue reading

U.S. Cannot Certify a Country that Tolerates Murder

by Leo Gerard

USW President Leo Gerard

The slaying of one Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin, roiled anger and outrage in this country among citizens who believe the killing was unjust and unwarranted. Similarly, the torture and killing of one labor activist in Bangladesh last week provoked an outcry there and a half-page story in the New York Times.

Americans don’t countenance murder, particularly when it’s racially or politically motivated. Americans are justice-seeking and fair-play-believing. And that is why we, as a country, cannot certify that Colombia has fulfilled its obligations under the Labor Action Plan. Certification is a step necessary before the free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States can take effect.

Colombia eagerly anticipates that happening this weekend during the Summit of the Americas to be held in Cartagena, Colombia. For us to do so would be to turn our backs on the 30 trade unionists slain in Colombia last year and the six that Justice for Colombia reports have been murdered already this year.

The Labor Action Plan that was attached to the free trade agreement when the United States approved it a year ago was intended to pressure Colombia to stop the killing and torture and to prosecute the perpetrators. The routine slaughter of human rights activists and trade unionists in Colombia is a quarter century old. It didn’t end in a year’s time. And for us to certify that it did would be to betray the victims and their families.

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Oppose the Columbia FTA

Murder and Impunity of Colombian Trade Unionists

Prepared by USLEAP, June 2011

I. Colombia Remains the Most Dangerous Country to be a Trade   Unionist

51 unionists were assassinated in 2010.

47 union members were killed in Colombia in 2009.

338 unionists received death threats, 35 were forcibly displaced, 16 were harassed, 34 were

arbitrarily detained, and 7 disappeared in 2010.1

21 unionists survived attempts on their lives in 2010. Continue reading

The Audacity of Free Trade

Vendedora de frutas Cartagena, Colombia

Image via WikipediaCongress could vote any day now to strike a new blow against already-battered U.S. workers and the unemployed.

by Laura Carlsen.  The Americas Program

Congress could vote any day now to strike a new blow against already-battered U.S. workers and the unemployed.

Committees in the House and Senate recently marked up the Colombia, Panama, and South Korea Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). The Obama administration is urging passage of all three relics of the Bush administration before the summer recess.

The full-court press on the FTAs represents a reversal for a president elected on a trade reform platform. During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama proclaimed his opposition to the NAFTA-style FTAs and boasted of his stance against the devastating North American and Central American agreements. As candidate Obama, he carefully distanced himself from the open-market, pro-corporate policies of his predecessor, calling for significant changes to the NAFTA model, including enforceable labor and environmental standards, and consumer protections.

The Global Crisis

In the three years since Obama wooed voters with talk of bold changes in trade policy, the need for reforms has reached crisis proportions. The global economic crisis left the United States with skyrocketing un- and under-employment rates. The government paid billions of dollars in bailout money to the corporations who caused the crisis. These corporations then turned around to post record profits and hand out astronomical executive pay bonuses. The evidence that FTA-fueled outsourcing benefits those corporations while putting Americans out of work has piled up, and polls show that a majority of U.S. citizens oppose NAFTA-style FTAs. Continue reading

Two More Banana Workers Murdered in Colombia as Free Trade Agreement is Debated in DC

by Paul Garver

The AFL-CIO remains strongly opposed to the proposed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement “until Colombia takes sustained, meaningful, and measurable action to change the culture of violence that plagues those who work to better their lives.” It is too soon to know if the promises made in the Labor Action Plan (a side agreement not part of the proposed trade treaty) will rise above the level of good intentions to benefit Colombia’s workers.

In an August 4 letter, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka stated:

“Congress should not act prematurely on the first signs of good intentions, but should rather wait for clear and convincing evidence over a sustained period of time that the facts on the ground have changed before acting on the Colombia Trade Agreement.”

The assassination of two more banana workers’ union members underscored the weakness of the “Labor Action Plan” by which the government of Colombia has promised to end the decades-long violent assault on the labor movement. On 31st July two banana workers’ union members were murdered in the municipality of Apartadó, Wilmar Serna, banana worker and workers committee member, and Eduardo Fabian Zúñiga Vásquez, also a banana worker. Their union SINTRAINAGRO is one of the few remaining private sector unions in Colombia, and the only one with a national bargaining agreement.

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Guatemala’s Killing Fields

Another Banana Union Leader Assassinated in Guatemala

by Paul Garver

This year Guatemala is overtaking Colombia in the contest for killing the most advocates of rights for workers and peasants.

On May 26, Joel Hernandez Godoy, finance secretary of the banana workers union SITRABI, was shot dead by a gunman on motorcycle while driving to the union headquarters in the town of Morales.

This brutal assassination follows the April 10 murder of SITRABI officer Oscar  Humberto Vasquez, killed by two men on a motorcycle in Nueva Chiriqui, Morales.

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Columbia Free Trade Agreement ?

AFL-CIO Mike Hall. May 17, 2011.

Until Congress acts on renewing an enhanced Trade Adjustment Assistance Act (TAA) for workers who have lost their jobs because of outsourcing, offshoring and unfair trade deals, the Obama administration will not submit three pending trade deals to Congress, the White House announced yesterday.

Capitol Hill observers said Boehner and Republicans held the TAA extension hostage to force a commitment from the Obama administration to send three pending trade deals— Korea, Panama and Colombia—to Congress.

The AFL-CIO has long-backed TAA. In February, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called it a “lifeline for working people trying to get the skills necessary to change careers after their lives have been turned upside down.”

But the AFL-CIO remains firmly opposed to the Colombia, Korea and Panama free trade agreements.

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USLEAP Releases Third-Annual Colombian Impunity Report

The Colombian justice system is falling further behind in the fight against impunity for anti-union violence, according to USLEAP’s third-annual report released on December 22 that examines convictions of murderers of trade unionists.

In an analysis of 77 rulings issued in 2009 by Colombian courts, the report found that the Colombian government achieved convictions in cases of 59 murdered trade unionists, of which 41 represented new convictions (18 were for victims for whom some convictions had been achieved in previous years). This means that Colombia is falling further behind in combating impunity; the 41 new convictions in 2009 for murders of trade unionists were outpaced by the 47 trade unionists killed in the same year. Even if there were no more deaths starting today, at its current pace it would take the Colombian justice system 30 years to even partially address the backlog of nearly 3,000 murder cases.

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Colombian Banana Workers Win Strike

banana strike victory

by Paul Garver

On 20 May 17,000 banana workers in Colombia ended their two week long mass strike on nearly 300 plantations in Urabà province, agreeing on a two year contract with improved wages and benefits. The agreement was reached a few hours ahead of a projected global support mobilization by the IUF.

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Banana Workers Strike in Colombia

banana strike 2

by Paul Garver

17,000 banana workers have been on strike since 8th May at 296 plantations in the Urabà province of Colombia. The originally economic strike has taken on new significance because of hostile actions by certain plantation owners and government officials.

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