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Cablegate: New Voices in the Labor Violence Debate

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FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2625
INFO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS
RUEHGL/AMCONSUL GUAYAQUIL
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS BOGOTA 000159

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USTR FOR EISSENSTAT AND HARMAN
DOL FOR ZOLLNER AND QUINTANA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB EAID ETRD PGOV PHUM PREL USTR LAB CO
SUBJECT: NEW VOICES IN THE LABOR VIOLENCE DEBATE

REF: 09 BOGOTA 3031

SUMMARY

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1. (SBU) Colombian research institutions are focused on labor
violence to an unprecedented degree. Two prominent universities
and six think-tanks have recently completed or initiated studies.
The influx of new voices has intensified and enriched the debate
concerning the causes and scope of violence against unionists. It
has also unnerved self-styled Dean of Labor Relations Jose Luciano
Sanin and his colleagues at the National Union School (ENS). In
particular, a November 2009 econometric study by University of the
Andes Economics Professor Daniel Mejia, which concluded that labor
violence was "neither systematic nor targeted," has drawn criticism
from labor groups and praise from the GOC. ENS attacked its
assumptions and methodology and called the authors biased, while
the GOC disseminated it widely in countries where it has pending
free-trade agreements (FTA). The debate over the scope and nature
of labor violence will widen and intensify this month when six
think tanks participating in a labor violence study headed by the
United Nations Development Program (UNPD) and funded by the
diplomatic community present their initial findings to the GOC and
civil society. End Summary.

"SERIOUS" ACADEMICS ENTER THE DEBATE

--------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Daniel Mejia, who earned his Ph.D. in Economics from Brown
University, and co-author Maria Jose Uribe conducted an econometric
study to test the claim (mainly by labor groups and NGOs) that
"greater intensity of union activity (wage negotiations, strikes,
protests, marches) leads to more violence against union members."
Relying on both ENS and GOC data as well as a variety of estimation
methods, time periods, data sources, and types of union activity,
the authors found no statistical evidence supporting this claim.
On the contrary, their results showed a strong correlation between
violence against union members and areas with high levels of
general violence and low levels of economic development. The study
also concluded that violence against union members had decreased at
a faster rate than violence against the total population. GOC
officials have embraced Mejia's study and disseminated it widely,
particularly in countries where FTAs with Colombia are held up over
concerns about labor violence.

3. (SBU) Although many hail Mejia's work as the first serious
analysis of labor violence by a reputable Colombian academic
institution, it is not without its detractors. Luciano Sanin,
whose ENS figures are the traditional standard for labor violence
discussions, argued that Mejia only took into account union
activity that occurred within the context of collective bargaining
processes, ignoring the numerous other protests, mobilizations, and
political opposition movements that tended to attract violent
reprisals. He said that statistically verifiable conclusions could
not be drawn from partial information, especially when only one in
five unionists in Colombia was actually party to a collective
bargaining agreement. He also charged that Mejia had not been
independent from GOC influence and suggested that the study was
doctored to support passage of FTAs in the United States, Canada,
and the European Union. Mejia and Uribe published a point-by-point
response to Luciano Sanin's methodological critiques, and insisted
on their independence. (Comment: Mejia is not known to be a GOC
apologist. As recently as March 2009, GOC officials rebuked him
for other work that was critical of supply-side drug interventions
and Plan Colombia. End Comment.)

SIX OTHER RESEARCH CENTERS DUE TO WEIGH IN

------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Six reputable, independent research institutions are
currently conducting related studies under the auspices of the UNDP
with financial support from the diplomatic community (reftel). The
Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC) is exploring methods of
defining and measuring labor violence; the Center for Research and
Popular Education (CINEP) is analyzing links between violence and
worker protests; the New Rainbow Corporation (Nuevo Arco Iris) is
studying labor violence in the context of the armed conflict; the
Center for the Study of Law, Justice, and Society (DeJusticia) is
studying impunity and justice system capacity; the Ideas for Peace
Foundation (FIP) is analyzing the relationship between labor
violence and Colombia's so-called "anti-union culture;" and the
Center for Special Studies and Projects (CIPE) at the Externado
University of Colombia is studying the efficacy of past and present
protection measures for unionists.

5. (SBU) UNDP Democracy and Governance Specialist Jose Ricardo
Puyana told us that the GOC and civil society groups, including
Colombia's three largest labor confederations (CUT, CGT, and CTC),
ENS, and the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ), will review and
offer their recommendations on the research centers' initial
findings during formal "discussion groups" set to take place in
late February and early March. The research centers will then
refine their studies as necessary and prepare their final reports
by May. Following a process of internal review and revision with
oversight by Colombia's National University, the results will be
combined into a final report and presented at an international
seminar organized by UNDP in August. Observers note that the
project, particularly the discussion group phase, is likely to
generate an unprecedented degree of dialogue, debate, and
controversy concerning the scope and causes of violence against
unionists in Colombia.
BROWNFIELD

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