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Apology is not enough, unionists say

Apology is not enough, unionists say

International union leaders refuse to believe the explanation offered by the Bogotá government for the deportation of foreign trade unionists from Colombia. After trade unions from around the world issued strong protests earlier this week at the expulsions, Vice President Francisco Santos apologised for the deportation, arguing it was a “mistake by immigration officials”.

15.11.2004 [Maria Engqvist, ANNCOL] General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Aidan White, condemned the Colombian government over a “political game of intimidation” after the deportation from the international airport in Bogotá of four senior international trade unionists.

“In a country where union activists are being killed as they fight for their rights, it is intolerable that international unionists expressing solidarity and support should be victims of a political game of intimidation,” said Aidan White.

The four unionists, due to attend an international coordination meeting, were detained at the El Dorado airport by agents of Colombia's secret police, DAS. They were told by senior immigration officials that their names appeared on a “list of people denied entry to Colombia” because they had attended an international union conference last September later described as “illegal” by senior government officials.

The four included Victor Baez Mosqueira, General Secretary of the world’s biggest union confederation ICFTU’s Inter-American Regional Organisation.

In Brussels, a delegation led by ICFTU Assistant General Secretary, Jose Olivio de Oliveira, told Colombia’s Ambassador, Nicolás Echavarría, that the deportation marks an escalation of the government’s anti-union policies.

Following strong international condemnation, Colombia’s Vice President Francisco Santos and Foreign Minister Carolina Barco apologised for the deportation, arguing it was a “mistake by immigration officials”.

According to ICFTU Online, the delegation told the Colombian Ambassador that these explanations “could not be accepted”.

“This is no accident or mistake. The government’s explanations are simply not credible and we are determined to respond to this hostile development with all available means”, Jose Olivio de Oliveira said.

The delegation also expressed its concern that the Colombian Government’s list may fall into the hands of extremist paramilitaries.

According to a new report by Colombia’s National Labor College ENS, attacks against trade unionists have increased during the government of President Uribe by almost 20 percent. More than 50 union activists have been assassinated this year by state security forces and their paramilitary death squads.

In another development, union leaders from Great Britain, Ireland and Spain who had arrived in Colombia to attend a meeting of women trade unionists had their 60-day visas suddenly cancelled and were permitted to stay only three days in the country. This decision was rectified following a formal protest presented by representatives of the Global Union Federations and local unions in Colombia to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

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