Sunday, March 08, 2009

Colombia is the unfortunate South American country where labour and human rights activists are routinely murdered by right wing death squads with the tacit connivance of the government. Yessica Hoyos is the daughter of one such murdered unionist, and she has carried the work of her father even further. She has now been nominated for the George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award. Here's the story from the AFL-CIO Blog.
by James Parks, Mar 5, 2009

Colombian workers’ rights activist Yessika Hoyos will receive the 2008 Meany-Kirkland Human Rights Award.:

Seven years ago, Colombian union leader Jorge Dario Hoyos was assassinated. But his death did not silence his family’s search for justice. Today, his daughter, Yessika, is following in her father’s steps, risking her life in pursuit of workers’ rights and challenging the power of corporations and a government that does little to protect the rights and lives of workers.

Today, the AFL-CIO Executive Council, meeting in Miami, nominated Yessika Hoyos for the 2008 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award. Click here to read the resolution.

Hoyos, a lawyer, has been fighting tirelessly to bring her father’s killers to justice and to end the cycle of violence in her native land. Even though the low-level trigger men responsible for her father’s death have been prosecuted, the masterminds who ordered Dario Hoyos’ death have not been found—an all-too-common scenario in the deadliest country in the world for union members.

The Colombian government has not vigorously investigated or prosecuted the killing of trade union members. At the current pace of investigations and trials, it would take 37 years to prosecute the backlog of cases. And the caseload is growing—the rate of killings, which had fallen for a few years, jumped sharply last year by 25 percent, says José Luciano Sanin, director of Escuela Nacional Sindical (National Union School), a leading Colombian think tank.

The AFL-CIO and a broad coalition of groups have opposed passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement until workers can fully exercise international core labor rights without fear, the country makes deep and sustained progress on ending impunity, and the agreement is amended to address persistent criticisms of the trade model.

Yessika Hoyos’ passion and determination for justice come naturally, says AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, a good friend and supporter of her father. Trumka was president of the Mine Workers (UMWA) when he first met Dario, who was leading an energy workers union in Colombia. Hoyos came to the United States to learn how to organize and better represent workers, Trumka says. The two men became good friends.

After Dario was killed, Trumka said, the Colombian government did virtually nothing to find and prosecute his killers. At the same time, no one would help Yessika and her mother except the union movement.

"They kept getting threats. We [UMWA] moved them five times. People were afraid
that if they helped, the assassins would come for them, too."

Testifying before the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee last month, Hoyos recalled those days of living in fear:

"The very day of the funeral, the tragedy took another turn. Threats, harassment, persecution started against us, so that we wouldn’t make any denouncements or claims. And because of that we had to leave our home and hide out in Bogotá, where we were found anyway, to the extent that we had to move five times in a single year."

Hoyos shows the same courage her father had, Trumka says.

"You can see the sense of outrage. She refused to let the government stonewall
on her father’s case."

The Bush administration refused to force the Colombian government to aggressively prosecute those who killed trade unionists, Trumka says, but heroes like Dario “will never be forgotten and we honor them more when we go get their killers,” he adds.

If anyone deserves the Meany-Kirkland Award, Trumka says, it’s Yessika Hoyos.

"Her dad was an incredible man. He had an insatiable thirst for worker justice.
He was really making a difference and getting things done. He was a genuinely
good man. His memory deserves much more than the Colombian government is trying to give him."

Despite the abysmal record in her native country, Hoyos says she still has hope. At a recent AFL-CIO forum, she said she keeps working to educate people because

"so many tolerate violence in our society. I keep doing it because I believe we
can build the kind of Colombia where children don’t have to grow up without

She told the House Education and Labor Committee last month that she and other surviving families of assassinated trade unionists are striving to fulfill their loved ones’ dream:

"We are not alone. We are brothers and sisters united by hope, by dreams of justice, truth and freedom. With the good fortune of love and solidarity, we have found many older brothers and sisters around the world who keep us going on the path of hope with their encouragement and faith. We know that we are the children of the dreams of justice and equality of our parents, and it is for that very reason that we are ethically and morally obligated to build a great country, where there is respect for life, where there is the right to think, to dissent and to dream."

The annual Meany-Kirkland award, created in 1980 and named for the first two presidents of the AFL-CIO, recognizes outstanding examples of the international struggle for human rights through trade unions. Previous winners have included U Maung Maung of Burma, Nancy Riche of Canada, Wellington Chibebe of Zimbabwe, Ela Bhatt, the founder of India’s Self Employed Women’s Association, and the Liberian rubber workers.

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