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