Author`s name Alex Naumov

Colombia says “working hard” to cut violence against trade unionists

So far this year 30 trade unionists, including six union leaders, have been assassinated in Colombia. This sad statistic could be just a new example of the violence that crushes the South American nation, but it has now turned into a key political issue for the future of the country.

US Democrats in Congress say they are not ready to back a free trade deal with Colombia if Bogota does not cut violence against trade unionist. As a reply, the administration led by conservative President Alvaro Uribe said the country “is working as hard as it can” to protect them.

"We're (fighting violence) as hard as we can," Colombian Trade Minister Luis Guillermo Plata told reporters. "That what's a country ought to be doing, any country in the world -- fighting violence, fighting criminals and prosecuting those who commit crimes, against union leaders, against anybody in society."

The murders of three education sector trade unionists in September and November contradict the government’s claims. The sad reality is that some 30 trade unionists, including six union leaders, have been assassinated in Colombia so far this year, bringing to almost 560 the total number of trade unionists murdered since President Uribe came to office in 2002. Only a tiny fraction of these murder cases has been cleared up, and even fewer of the perpetrators have been brought to justice. During 2006, 78 trade unionists were assassinated in Colombia, according to Human Rights groups.

The Bush administration hopes Colombia’s initiatives will help persuade members of Congress to vote for the free trade agreement, which has been stalled for more than a year because of strong opposition from the AFL-CIO labor federation, which calls Colombia the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists.

Although murders of trade unionists have declined under Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, they still remain too high and many more trade unionists live in fear for their lives, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said in a letter last week that urged lawmakers not to vote on the pact in 2008.

Last week, Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton said she opposed the Colombia free trade agreement because of that country's "history of violence against trade unionists." But Thomas "Mack" McLarty, who was Clinton's husband's first White House chief of staff, said approving the agreement would bolster human rights in Colombia, as well as creating a more favorable environment for U.S. business.

In a recent letter to Álvaro Uribe, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) joined with its Colombian affiliates in expressing its reproof and indignation in the face of murders. The ITUC has called on the authorities to order immediate and full investigations into crimes and to bring those responsible to justice.

Hernan Etchaleco