Rural union leader under threat in Colombia

Trade unionists in Colombia continue to face threats to their very lives as they fight an uphill battle to protect the rights of both urban and rural workers. Last week the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Associations (IUF) reported that Guillermo Rivera Zapata, vice president of the Colombian rural workers union SINTRAINAGRO, was suddenly deprived of the security measures, including bodyguards, previously provided by the government.

“Guillermo Rivera is now traveling in connection with his union duties in the banana zone of Cienaga-Magdalena and in the rural areas of Cordoba and Uraba, areas where the threat of violence is extremely high,” the IUF said. “According to the interior ministry, the state no longer has the resources to provide security to threatened union leaders and the unions themselves must assume this responsibility.”

The IUF said well over 400 members and leaders of the rural workers union have been assassinated since 1989. The international union is asking that messages calling for Zapata’s protection be sent to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, fax +571 334 1323 or e-mail: auribe@presidencia.gov.co.

Canada’s National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) noted in a recent statement that on average, a trade union leader is assassinated every three days in Colombia, accounting for the vast majority of all trade unionists killed worldwide. More than 80 percent of the casualties are civilians, NUPGE said, with the extreme right-wing paramilitaries responsible for 85 percent of the deaths and the army for another 10 percent.

NUPGE pointed out that much of the billions of dollars the U.S. government has sent to Colombia under Plan Colombia and the Andean Initiative has gone to finance the paramilitary groups closely associated with the army, as well as large landowners and transnational corporations.

The author can be reached at cpusainternat@mindspring.com