Stop the death threats to Colombian trade unionists now!
I wrote with some optimism a few days ago about Colombia’s impending peace deal that would seek ratification in a referendum in September. This historic cease-fire agreement was signed on 23 June by the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) guerrillas after years of negotiations. It should bring an end to over 50 years of conflict that has cost some 200,000 lives, the displacement of more than 6 million people and has brought Colombia the title of murder capital for trade union activists. But still the death threats continue.
Despite this momentous political event, working people and their families in Colombia continue to suffer imminent death threats by paramilitary groups, often in collusion with security forces, due to their trade union activity. My colleague Sean Bamford has written previously about the extent of the ongoing threats and killings of trade union activists in Colombia.
Trade union leader Rodolfo Vecino Acevedo, a member of the national executive committee of the Colombian oil workers’ union, USO, has become the latest person to receive a letter threatening to kill him and all his family if he does not leave the country within one week. The letter was sent by the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a paramilitary group formed in 2008. The letter criticizes Rodolfo’s trade union activities and claims that they “obstruct the plans of companies and their economic development”. Unfortunately, this is not the first time he has received such threats. USO has repeatedly had to denounce such letters to the public prosecutor and the police. However, the union says the authorities have failed to conduct any investigation.
USO is part of the global union federation IndustriAll and Jyrki Raina, the General Secretary, has written to Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos, asking him to intervene immediately; take the necessary measures to protect Rodolfo and his family; and ensure that the country’s judiciary takes action in response to the paramilitary group’s death threats. Jyrki wrote:
“It is inconceivable that progress is being made in the peace process in Colombia to build a future without fear, reprisals and insecurity while people are still allowed to issue this kind of threat and insult.
In the name of IndustriALL’s 50 million members from all around the world, we make this special request to you to order the relevant authorities to find the people responsible, guarantee Rodolfo Vecino Acevedo’s right to life and to conduct trade union activities and provide guarantees for the protection of his life and that of his family.”
The TUC fully supports IndustriAll’s demands and in solidarity with our comrades in Colombia we insist the government of Colombia do more to investigate these threats and to ensure that the inclusion of guarantees of justice for trade union activists and their families will be embedded within the implementation process of the peace deal, so that the murderous threats and assassinations of trade union and human rights activists can finally be consigned to Colombia’s past.