The Guardian February 19, 2003

Colombia Rural unionists under threat

by Marilyn Bechtel

Trade unionists in Colombia continue to face threats to their very lives as 
they fight an uphill battle to protect the rights of both urban and rural 
workers. Last week the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, 
Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Associations (IUF) 
reported that Guillermo Rivera Zapata, vice President of the Colombian 
rural workers union SINTRAINAGRO, was suddenly deprived of the security 
measures, including bodyguards, previously provided by the government.

"Guillermo Rivera is now travelling in connection with his union duties in 
the banana zone of Cienaga-Magdalena and in the rural areas of Cordoba and 
Uraba, areas where the threat of violence is extremely high", the IUF said.

"According to the interior ministry, the state no longer has the resources 
to provide security to threatened union leaders and the unions themselves 
must assume this responsibility."

The IUF said well over 400 members and leaders of the rural workers union 
have been assassinated since 1989. The international union is asking that 
messages calling for Zapata's protection be sent to Colombian President 
Alvaro Uribe, fax +571 334 1323 or e-mail:

Canada's National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) noted in a 
recent statement that on average, a trade union leader is assassinated 
every three days in Colombia, accounting for the vast majority of all trade 
unionists killed worldwide.

More than 80 percent of the casualties are civilians, NUPGE said, with the 
extreme right-wing paramilitaries responsible for 85 per cent of the deaths 
and the army for another 10 per cent.

NUPGE pointed out that much of the billions of dollars the US Government 
has sent to Colombia under Plan Colombia and the Andean Initiative has gone 
to finance the paramilitary groups closely associated with the army, as 
well as large landowners and transnational corporations.

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People's Weekly World

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