Tuesday, October 07, 2008


For decades now trade unionists in the unfortunate country of Colombia have struggled to organize in the face of right wing paramilitary attacks, including over a thousand murders. This goes on today, and unionists in Colombia need your solidarity in the face of these threats, as this story from the International Trade Union Confederation points out.


Colombia: Several trade unionists receive death threats
Brussels, 24 September 2008:

The ITUC has condemned in the strongest terms the death threats made against FENSUAGRO General Secretary Eberto Díaz and calls upon Colombian President Álvaro Uribe (ES) to take all necessary steps to protect Mr Díaz from any attempt on his life.

On 18 September 2008, FENSUAGRO received a message purportedly from the paramilitary organisation Amigos de Álvaro Uribe en Colombia (AUC). The message listed several social and trade union organisations – including FENSUAGRO – as targets along with two national FENSUAGRO leaders, General Secretary Eberto Díaz and Secretary Juan Efraín Mendoza. Direct threats were also made against the family of Eberto Díaz in Colombia while he himself was in Europe. Over 1,000 members of FENSUAGRO have been murdered since the association was founded 32 years ago, 12 of them during 2008 alone.

Regrettably, Eberto Díaz is not the only figure to have received death threats in Colombia over the past few days. On 16 September, both the Asamblea Permanente de la Sociedad Civil por la Paz and the Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas received a death threat against leaders of the trade union movement and the Polo Democrático Alternativo (PDA) signed by, among others, a paramilitary group calling themselves Comando Carlos Castaño Vive. The message listed CUT General Secretary Domingo Tovar Arrieta, USO National Board member Rodolfo Vecino, former USO President Hernando Hernández, Polo Democrático National Executive Committee members Nelson Berrio and Rafael Cabarcas, and youth leader Lenin Fernández.

We, the trade union movement, as represented by the ITUC, national, regional and international organisations, and not least our affiliates in Colombia itself are extremely concerned by these deplorable developments. “The Colombian government has a duty to protect social players in Colombia, in particular trade unionists,” said Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the ITUC. “Colombia must respect the trade union rights enshrined in ILO Core Conventions,” he added.
Please read the letter sent to President Uribe (ES).


The above article was pointed out by the British online solidarity site Labour Start. This site also has a reference to another British site, the Justice for Colombia group who published more on this latest round of threats. See the article below. For information from Canadians working in solidarity with Colombian unions and human rights groups see the Canada-Colombia Project. Americans might want to see the Columbia Action Network.

Posted by Justice for Colombia Date 1 October 2008

A series of incidents involving leaders of the Colombian agricultural workers' trade union FENSUAGRO, as well as their children, indicate that assassination attempts against them are imminent. The two individuals believed to be at most risk – Aidee Moreno and Eberto Diaz – have both visited the UK to speak at union conferences and other events. Justice for Colombia urges all supporters to take action.
Harassment of leading members of FENSUAGRO and their families have increased dramatically in recent weeks. These include suspicious men following them, strangers coming up to union officials in the street and insulting them, harassment of the children of union President Eberto Diaz, including one of his sons being threatened by a man with a gun who asked about his father. E-mail death threats have also arrived at the FENSUAGRO offices stating that several individuals will shortly be killed. The union has requested protection from the Colombian authorities but this has been denied. Detailed information is below, but please take the following action as soon as possible:
What you can do
Send a message similar to this one to the Colombian Ambassador in London (by e-mail on N.Sanin@colombianembassy.co.uk and A.Garcia@colombianembassy.co.uk or by post to Colombian Embassy, 3 Hans Crescent, London, SW1X 0LN):
Dear Ambassador,
I am writing to express my extreme concern for the safety of senior members of the Colombian agricultural workers' trade union FENSUAGRO and their families. Already this year seven members of FENSUAGRO have been assassinated, and recent events appear to indicate that further assassinations are imminent.

I refer to the following incidents:

September 10th: Two strange men follow Aidee Moreno, national secretary for human rights at FENSUAGRO, as she leaves the headquarters of the union.

September 12th: A man with a gun grabs 14-year-old Eberto Enrique Diaz, the son of FENSUAGRO President Eberto Diaz Montes, as he is walking home from school. The man attempted to force the boy to open the door of the family home and says various threatening things to him about his father and mother.

September 16th: At approximately 6pm a man approaches the secretary who works for FENSUAGRO as she is walking through central Bogota. In a threatening way the man accuses her of being a guerrilla.

September 18th: Unidentified men in a black jeep wait outside of the school that two of the children of union President Eberto Diaz Montes attend. As they walk home with their mother, the jeep pulls up next to them and those inside throw water over them and call them "sons of bitches guerrillas".

September 18th: Two paramilitary death threats arrive by e-mail at the FENSUAGRO headquarters warning that leaders of the union will shortly be killed.

September 24th: At 12.18 as Aidee Moreno arrives at the FENSUAGRO headquarters she notices two men starring intently at her. As she passes, one man says to the other "That is her".
September 26th: Several suspicious men are seen loitering outside the union's headquarters in central Bogota. They seem particularly interested in Aidee Moreno.

As you will know, assassinations of union leaders in Colombia are regularly preceded by activities such as those outlined above. I understand that FENSUAGRO has already contacted the Colombian Ministry of Interior requesting protection for those at risk but that this protection has been denied.

I insist that your Government reconsiders its position and that action is immediately taken to safeguard the lives of those union leaders and activists that are in danger. Your Government will appear complicit in any further attacks should the authorities continue to ignore requests for protection.

I am deeply worried that killings of trade unionists in Colombia this year have already surpassed the total number killed last year – an increase that contradicts the claims made by your Government that the situation is improving. Please make it clear to your colleagues in Bogota that the international community will not remain silent whilst the Colombian trade union movement is exterminated.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Send a letter, a draft is below, to your Member of Parliament (to find out who your MP is click here, all MPs can be written to at House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA):

Dear Member of Parliament,
I am writing to request that you make urgent representations to the Colombian Ambassador in London regarding the safety of members of the Colombian agricultural workers' trade union FENSUAGRO.
Several incidents in recent weeks – including harassment by suspicious men and death threats – indicate that an attack against senior members of the union is imminent. Seven members of the union have already been assassinated in Colombia so far this year and it is urgent that the international community speaks out if we are to put an end to the killings.
Furthermore, I am deeply concerned by reports that the Colombian authorities have denied a request made by the union to provide their leaders with protection. Without any protection these brave men and women are left at the mercy of anti-trade union death squads that operate in collusion with the Colombian security forces.
I hope that your intervention may encourage the Colombian authorities to take action to protect the lives of FENSUAGRO's leaders, activists and members and their families.
Thank you in advance for your assistance in this matter.
Yours sincerely,

***Please send copies of your messages, and any replies received, to the Justice for Colombia office on info@justiceforcolombia.org or to JFC, 9 Arkwright Road, London NW3 6AB
So far this year seven members of the Colombian agricultural workers trade union FENSUAGRO have been assassinated:
*Israel Gonzalez, a regional leader of the union, killed January 24th in the town of San Antonio, Tolima department.
*Manuel Antonio Jimenez, a union activist, killed March 15th in the town of Puerto Asis, Putumayo department.
*Jose Fernando Quiroz, a union activist, killed March 15th in the town of Puerto Asis, Putumayo department.
*Tomas Alberto Chiquillo Pascuales, a regional leader of the union, killed May 10th in the town of San Angel, Magdalena department.
*Luis Orlando Gelves, a union activist, killed May 11th in the town of Nuevo Oriente, Arauca department.
*Luis Mayusa Prada, a union activist, killed on August 8th in the town of Saravena, Arauca department.
*Manuel Erminson Gamboa Melendez, a regional leader of the union, killed on August 13th in the town of Puerto Asis, Putumayo department.

Most of these assassinations were preceded by the victims receiving threats, being followed by unknown individuals or other forms of harassment. Recent events in the Colombian capital Bogota indicate that further assassinations, this time aimed at the national leadership of the union, are imminent.

Furthermore, the children of the President of the union have been targeted. This is deeply worrying given that in February this year FENSUAGRO and various other trade unions and human rights organisations received a death threat that included the following paragraph:
"We will finish you off through your families, your children and loved ones will give their lives because of your filthy acts, cowards who don't show their faces and for that reason your families will pay dearly for your errors."

The recent upsurge in threatening activity began on September 10th when two suspicious men followed Aidee Moreno as she left the union's headquarters in central Bogota. Ms Moreno is the national secretary for human rights at FENSUAGRO.

This was followed, two days later, by an incident involving 14-year-old Eberto Enrique Diaz, the son of FENSUAGRO President Eberto Diaz Montes, who was walking home from school in the Fontibon neighbourhood of Bogota where the family live. A block from his house a man grabbed him by the arm, threatened him with a gun and said "walk quickly, don't shout". Upon arriving at the family home the boy tried to walk past but the man said "this is your house, open the door". The boy responded that he was no longer living there, that he did not have keys and that he was now living with a friend elsewhere. The man said "I know you live here, open the door", and the boy responded that he did not have any keys. The man then asked the boy where his mother was and said several things about his father and his father's security and mentioned two other names, which the boy, because of the trauma he suffered, cannot remember. At this point a neighbour came out and spoke to the boy and the man left.

Four days later, on September 16th, a secretary working at FENSUAGRO was walking in the centre of Bogota (Carrera 9 y 10, Calle 17) at around 6pm when a man came up to her and said, "Such a great looking girl, what a shame that the bitch is a guerrilla". He then walked off.

This was followed by an incident on September 18th involving the two youngest children of union President Eberto Diaz. The two youngsters were collected at school by their mother who noticed a black jeep with some men sitting in it parked in front of the school. Shortly after they had left the school the jeep intercepted them and those inside threw water over them and yelled "guerrilla sons of bitches".

The same day an e-mail arrived at the FENSUAGRO headquarters from amigosdeuribeporcolombia@yahoo.com.co – the first part of which translates into English as 'Friends of Uribe for Colombia'. The subject of the message was "warning sons of bitches". Some hours later a second e-mail arrived from the same address a translation of which, including some explanatory notes in bold, follows:
From: amigosdeuribeporcolombia@yahoo.com.co
Subject: warning sons of bitches
To: fensuagropresidencia@yahoo.es [the e-mail address of the FENSUAGRO President], fcspp@etb.net.co [the e-mail address of the Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners, a well-known human rights NGO], aliriouribe@hotmail.com [the e-mail address of a well-known Colombian human rights lawyer], anthocbogota@gmail.com [the e-mail address of the Colombian trade union representing health workers, ANTHOC]
Date: Thursday, 18 September, 2008 3:22
All of those organisations that claim to be leaders are no more than a cover up of the far left to support the FARC guerrillas. We know that to finish the guerrillas we need to exterminate you guerrilla sympathisers.
Today our president is risking himself for this beautiful country in the US. Meanwhile you want to criticise him everywhere. Being the first president who has defeated the guerrillas militarily and who is restoring peace and tranquillity for millions of Colombians, we support him and we will always support him.
We have information about organisations that are guerrilla sympathisers, such as committees of political prisoners, lawyers collectives - Andas, Anthoc, Minga, Reiniciar, Fenacoa, cut, Fensuagro [these are human rights groups and trade unions] and many others that are already on our list and have been declared our military targets.
Here it is not important who executes the orders, what is important is to debilitate the guerrilla, exterminating its people – Guillermo Rivera, Israel Gonzales, Milton Mora, [all victims of recent assassinations] these guerrillas are on the new list which has already been put into action. Other lists that have been put into action include Angel Salas, Juan Mendoza, Miguel Bobadilla, Eberto Diaz, Luis Sandoval, Omar Hernandez, Viviana ortiz, Albeiro Betancourt, Gilberto Martinez, Alvaro Londono, and Yesid Camacho [those named are all human rights defenders or trade union leaders from a variety of sectors]. Those people who believe we have forgotten them are very much mistaken, since we have obtained information from reliable sources.
We are very close to you. Much closer than you imagine and when you least expect it, we will get you. Look after yourselves sons of bitches and count yourselves as dead.
Friends of Uribe for Colombia"

Following the death threats the union reports that, beginning September 21st, strange men have been seen hanging around and watching the FENSUAGRO headquarters. Just after midday on September 24th, as human rights secretary Aidee Moreno was arriving at the office, one of these unknown men was overheard telling another "That is her".

FENSUAGRO has just reported: "We have made several requests to the Ministry of the Interior and Justice for protection of the members of the National Executive Committee of our federation without having received any positive response."
And also for another Canadian angle on Colombia see the following from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) , on the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: another Conservative blunder:
September 25, 2008 08:20 AM
OTTAWA – With a national election fast approaching, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is reminding the public of the dangers of the Conservative’s proposed free-trade agreement with Colombia.

Yesterday, during a session of its quarterly National Executive Board meeting, the union adopted a resolution opposing the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. Widely opposed by Colombian civil society, Canadian unions and even the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade, this agreement “is tantamount to a death sentence for all who oppose the policies of the current Colombian government,” said Paul Moist, CUPE National President.

Add this agreement to the list of disastrous international policy decisions made by the Harper government. Finalized in secret last June, 2008, the agreement solidifies ties with the government of President Alvaro Uribe. His government is renowned for giving free rein to paramilitary groups terrorizing and assassinating large numbers of Aboriginal people, Afro-Colombians and union members.

An estimated 5 million Colombians, many of them women and children, have been forcibly displaced through land seizures benefiting corporate interests. “Free trade with Colombia will add fuel to the fire, as it indicates to multinationals that the brutal dispossession of Colombians will continue. The agreement also constitutes a thumbs-up from Harper to Uribe, whose atrocious human rights record is not improving. Colombia is the most dangerous place on earth for trade unionists: 41 have already been assassinated in 2008, and no fewer than 2,500 since 1986,” noted Paul Moist.

“The fact that Stephen Harper wants to be a close ally of the most repressive government in the Americas says a lot about his vision of foreign affairs. This agreement would be another nail in the coffin of the communities under persecution, not to mention Canada’s reputation. The best way for Canadians to remedy the situation would be to defeat the Harper Conservatives on October 14,” concluded Paul Moist, who represented CUPE on an observation mission to Colombia in July.
See also CUPE’s international solidarity work in Colombia
Sébastien Goulet, CUPE Communications – 613 808-0675
Paul Moist, CUPE National President – (613) 558-2873

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