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Massive arrests in Colombia

Massive arrests in Colombia

Several new laws and programs enacted by Colombian president Alvaro Uribe are designed to criminalize the progressive movement. Thousands of religious and human-rights activists, afrodescendants, indigenous, and student and union leaders have been detained or arrested, writes US labor activist Berta Joubert-Ceci.

21.06.2004 (ANNCOL) As a service to our readers ANNCOL publishes excerpts from an open letter sent to U.S. trade unionists urging solidarity with Colombian workers:


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Last May 18, I was very privileged to have been the recipient of an award from the Coalition of Labor Union Women in Philadelphia for the work in the fight for International Workers' Rights that I have done through the years with my organization, the International Action Center.

This award belongs to many workers, but particularly to the courageous Colombian men and women who have put themselves in the line of fire by defending their jobs, their livelihoods and their union.

In the process, they are also defending human rights and working to build another Colombia where social justice, peace and solidarity prevail.

Today I write to you on behalf of those workers.

As you may know, the people of Colombia are suffering tremendously from policies that are dictated by the United States government and carried out by the local Colombian government. The current administration of President Alvaro Uribe Velez is particularly dangerous.

Several new laws and programs that he has enacted, mostly after Sept. 11, 2001, are designed to criminalize the progressive movement. Thousands of religious and human-rights activists, afrodescendants, indigenous, and student and union leaders have been detained and/or arrested. Death threats by paramilitaries are the order of the day.

The Killer Coke campaign ...on behalf of the Coca-Cola workers organized by SINALTRAINAL union is just one example of the people's resistance to the inhumane policies of the multinationals and the government.

The violence in Colombia extends to any person or group that disagrees and interferes with the state's neoliberal policies, either by organizing or even by just residing in a part of the country that is sought by transnational corporations for their "megaprojects."

One example is the recent displacement of more than 400 Wayuu indigenous peoples from La Guajira, an oil- and coal-rich region in northern Colombia, on the border with Venezuela. The testimony of Alberto, a Wayuu, to the Venezuelan newspaper Ultimas Noticias on May 23rd, speaks of the horrendous methods used by the paramilitaries:

"Oh, brother, I feel as if my heart is coming out my mouth. You cannot imagine how it is to have to escape on the run so that they won't kill you, and then hear the cries of the kids, of my two little sons who they burned alive without me being able to do anything. They burned them alive inside my pick-up."

Thirty Wayuu indigenous people were massacred in an effort to terrorize the rest of the population and render them inactive. These communities had been resisting the state's and corporations' attempt to steal their land.

These atrocities are for the benefit of transnational corporations, particularly those from the United States as Coca-Cola's example well illustrates. It is also important to point out that the land where the Wayuu community lived, La Guajira, is one of the most important oil regions in the country and where U.S. [corporations] Texaco-Chevron and Exxon-Mobil have extensive interests.

Last April 22 President Uribe had declared illegal a strike of ECOPETROL workers against his proposal to rewrite contracts with multinationals concerning oil reserves and production in order to would give these companies better provisions to the detriment of ECOPETROL, the national oil company.

We know that these atrocities also ultimately affect working people around the world, particularly here in the United States. If there are no unions in Colombia, their workers' wages will be slashed and their benefits disappear.

Next step will be for U.S. companies to close more plants here and move them south, leaving thousands here unemployed while paying substandard wages to our Latin American sisters and brothers.

Globalization has made the world a huge factory with workers from different countries, ethnicities and languages working together for the same corporation. But not the same wages, benefits and protection.

We ask that you and/or your union join in the effort to improve human rights in Colombia. A desperate call for solidarity has been issued by unions in Colombia who are organizing an "International Caravan to Save the Lives of Colombian Workers" that will travel through five different regions in that country from June 20 to the 26.

I urge you to do whatever is possible for you to stop these crimes against humanity that are also part of Plan Colombia.

Sincerely, Berta Joubert-Ceci Philadelphia International Action Center

© Scoop Media

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