Over the weekend, two prominent Colombian union leaders survived an assassination attempt in Cali, a city of more than 2.2 million in western Colombia.
The targets—Luis Miguel Morantes Alfonso and Adolfo Devia Paz of the Colombian Confederation of Workers (CTC, after its name in Spanish) and Emcali Union (USE)—survived unharmed inside a bullet-proof SUV provided by the Colombian government, according to a communiqué released by the National Labor School (ENS), a Colombian nonprofit organization dedicated to the empowerment of workers in the country.
“This is very serious and, above all, very unjust because we’re not harming anybody,” Morantes Alfonso told ENS. “We are only defending our workers’ labor rights.”
According to the ENS communiqué, the attack took place Saturday afternoon as Morantes Alfonso and Devia Paz descended their vehicle on their way to a meeting with other union leaders in northeast Cali, Colombia’s third largest city. Morantes Alfonso had received death threats in the past and Devia Paz had escaped a previous assassination attempt mid last year.
CTC’s executive committee issued a statement the same day of the attacks that in part reads:
“This lamentable event is framed by the difficult situation faced by the labor movement, which is not only facing labor rights violations but also violations against the right to life, as the event in Cali today shows.…We demand from the national government the security necessary to conduct union work and real protections for union members and leaders.”
A 2012 annual survey of reported violations of trade union rights conducted by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which represents 174 million workers in 156 countries and territories, found that 35 Colombian trade unionists were murdered, 10 escaped assassination attempts and 342 received threats. Furthermore, according to ENS, threats against trade unionists increased 68% between 2011 and 2012, while government funding for their protection decreased 30%.
"While some efforts have been made to investigate these crimes, the majority of the cases reported by trade union organisations remain unsolved,” the ITUC states in its 2012 survey of Colombia. “The state clearly lacks the capacity to protect trade union rights.”
Through various blog posts, official statements and panel discussions, AFL-CIO leaders have repeatedly denounced the Colombian government’s unsatisfactory implementation of the worker protections prescribed by the Action Plan on Labor Rights, which the United States and Colombia agreed to in April 2011 as part of the then-ongoing free trade agreement negotiation between both nations.
In a November 2012 blog post, AFL-CIO trade policy specialist Celeste Drake wrote:
“The AFL-CIO continues to push the U.S. and Colombian governments to do more to implement the Labor Action Plan. Status quo is not good enough—it fails workers who stand up for themselves and their families.”