Unions demand: Release Colombian labor lawyer

Public Services International, a trade union federation of 640 public sector unions in 155 countries, including the U.S., demanded the release of Dr. Alberto Carvajal Salcedo, 70, a Colombian labor and human rights lawyer imprisoned recently.

In a strongly worded letter to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, PSI General Secretary Hans Engelberts said Carvajal is a “victim of an organized harassment campaign in order to prevent him from doing his work.” He said ensuring democracy in Colombia “means more than words.”

PSI demanded the immediate release of Carvajal so he can be “free to continue his commendable work.” The letter also asked that the Uribe government “as a matter of urgency also put in place all necessary measures to ensure that labor and human rights lawyers be guaranteed the safety and integrity they deserve and need to promote a just and democratic society for all.”

After winning a financial settlement for 47 university professors who lost their jobs in 1999, the government charged Carvajal for misappropriation of state funds. Although there was a yearlong investigation that exonerated Carvajal from any wrongdoing, the case was reopened. Many human rights and labor activists charge that both the order to reopen the case and the jailing of Carvajal are politically motivated, intended to send a chilling message to anyone willing to stand up for workers rights and dignity in Colombia.

Colombia has been called the most dangerous place on earth for trade unionists. Some 4,000 trade unionists have been murdered over the past 20 years.

Meanwhile, President George W. Bush said in a letter to the House and Senate that he intends to sign a “free trade agreement” with Colombia, Sept. 25. Free trade agreements have been disasters for workers, indigenous people and the environment in the U.S. and other “free-trade partners.”

The AFL-CIO opposes the agreement, saying that even though thousands of unionists have been murdered in Colombia, “this hasn’t stopped the Bush administration from pushing for a trade deal. Given such a ghastly record, members of Congress might want to ask whether they really want yet another pact that fails to protect workers’ rights.”