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Breaking the silence over Colombian repression

This article is over 16 years, 10 months old
At the beginning of August Marianne Owens, a PCS member, was one of over 30 young British trade unionists and students who travelled to Colombia as part of a delegation organised to show solidarity with Colombian trade unionists. Here she describes wha
Issue 1968

The delegation was in Colombia for a week, in which time we attended around 20 meetings in both Bogotá and villages in the rural Cauca region, with trade union groups, non-governmental organisations, politicians, lawyers, community groups and human rights’ organisations.

The situation is appalling. At a meeting with CUT (Colombia’s equivalent of the TUC) we were told that since the beginning of 2005 there have been around 100 union activists murdered and many more have been tortured, imprisoned or “disappeared”.

While we were meeting with Fensuagro, the union that defends agricultural workers including the coca growers, news came through by telephone that there had been a paramilitary raid on the union’s Tolima offices and an official had been shot dead.

The armed conflict in Colombia has raged for four decades, with tension between the government, military and paramilitary groups as well as Marxist guerrilla groups such as the Farc. Military aid from abroad is diverted to the fascist paramilitary groups.

Britain gives an undisclosed amount of aid to Colombia — money used to aid the continuation of the bloody conflict and the oppression of the Colombian people.

Aid clearly isn’t being put into public services. Angel Salas of Anthoc, a health workers’ union, told us of the systematic closure of public hospitals. Now some 7 million people do not have access to public healthcare.

Under Plan Colombia — a US funded programme to wipe out the coca fields used in producing cocaine — farmers in affected areas are given a small subsidy to help them move away from growing coca, and to grow other crops. This is not working, as new crops face the danger of being affected by the “fumigation” where US military aircraft fly over the areas suspected of growing coca and drop lethal chemicals.

Neighbouring areas of Panama and Venezuela are now also becoming affected. If the non-coca crops do survive there are further problems as large multinational companies start to import the same crops more cheaply under new free trade agreements. In short the farmers are left with little choice — go back to growing cocaine or starve.

One topic, which emerges again and again is the Justice and Peace Bill. The law would allow paramilitaries to give themselves up and confess to their human rights and drug trafficking crimes.

The paramilitaries will face a maximum eight-year custodial sentence regardless of the extent of their crimes, which will be served in a special prison with conditions of relative luxury.

The left is attempting to unite into a coalition party in order to stand against president Uribe in next year’s general election.

A general strike has been called for 12 October and the CUT hopes it will be the biggest ever mobilisation of trade unions and the left in Colombia.

A peasant farmer who had lost his son to the paramilitary violence addressed us — “You must go home with one message. You must let the world know what is happening to us, silence is the bedfellow of impunity!”


The four suspended Scottish Socialist Party MSPs, Carolyn Leckie, Frances Curran, Rosie Kane and Colin Fox, have pledged to build support for Colombian trade unionists.

Last weekend Luciano Romero Molina, a leader of the Sinaltrainal trade union was assassinated.

His body was found tied up, tortured and with 40 knife wounds.  

Molina had previously worked for 20 years at Nestle until he was sacked in 2002 before working full time for the union.

Due to previous death threats he had to leave Colombia in 2004, only returning at the begining of this year.

Speaking on behalf of the four suspended MSPs, Carolyn Leckie said, “We have been suspended from the Scottish parliament for a month and during this time we will focus on a campaigns that need urgent assistance such as the plight of trade unionists in Colombia.”

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