Murders of trade unionists go unpunished in Colombia

This from an Economic Snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute is by Tony Avirgan:

Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. Over the past 21 years, more than 2,534 unionists have been assassinated. (The Escuela Nacional Sindical has documented 2,534 assassinations but says there are surely more that have not been reported.)

President Alvaro Uribe was elected in 2002 and again in 2006 promising a crackdown on violence. His policies have resulted in a decrease in guerrilla violence, but there has been an increase in extrajudicial executions perpetrated by right-wing death squads and security forces (Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) news release, October 18, 2007). Assassinations of trade unionists have decreased, but so have prosecutions of the assassins. For the past two years, none of the killers of trade unionists has been brought to trial in Colombia.

Now, despite public outcry over these appalling human rights abuses and the firm opposition of U.S. and Colombian unions, the Bush administration is seeking to reward Uribe with a free-trade agreement.

Luciano Vasquez, Director General of the Escuela Nacional Sindical, will address these issues at a Global Policy Network forum on Wednesday, February 27th. Click here for further information and to RSVP.

See also several articles from Dollars & Sense about the dangers of organizing in the palm oil, cut flower, and bottled beverage industries in Colombia: Blood on the Palms, Oil-Palm Plantations on Afro-Colombian Lands, Stop Killer Coke!, Some Roses Don’t Smell So Sweet, and “Organizing Rural Labor in Colombia” (D&S November/December 2006, available only in the print edition).

2 thoughts on “Murders of trade unionists go unpunished in Colombia”

  1. This post by the Chamber of Commerce sounds very much like the speech made by USTR Susan Schwab yesterday evening in an event in the Congressional offices. Ms. Schwab actually went beyond the Chamber and said, in response to a question, that NO manufacturing jobs have been lost in the U.S. because of NAFTA or any other trade agreement!The gist of all the arguments in favor of the Colombia FTA is that it will benefit Colombia and will reward the Uribe government for reducing human rights violations especially assassinations of union leaders.First of all, trade agreement or no trade agreement, the U.S. will continue to have strong influence in Colombia. Yesterday at EPI, Luciano Sanin Vasquez, Director General of the Escuela Nacional Sindical said that the drop in killings of union leaders from 72 in 2006 to 40 in 2007 is good, but should not be rewarded, Colombia is still the most dangerous place in the world to be a union leader. Luciano said that non-fatal attacks on union leaders are up and that a reason for the drop in assassinations is that unions have been so beaten down that they are no longer a threat to corporate bosses.Luciano said that assassinations may go up and the real problem is impunity. There are no investigations of the forces behind the assassinations. All prosecutions have been against low level people following orders. Luciano said that until impunity is dealt with a trade agreement with the U.S. would be disastrous.In addition to sending the wrong message to Uribe, Luciano said the proposed FTA will have a negative impact on Colombian agriculture; it will enable multi-national corporations to challenge and over-ride labor and environmental laws and it will extend patent protections for drugs, destroying the Colombian public health system that depends on generics.There is no reason to think that the proposed Colombia FTA will have any better impact than NAFTA which has been studied every five years for its impact in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico at

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