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Violence, Threats Increase in Colombia Ahead of Trade Deal Start

What’s going on in Colombia? Since the announcement that the U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement would enter into force on May 15, the violence and threats against human and workers' rights advocates actually have increased. Rather than advancing human rights in Colombia, the implementation announcement seems to be increasing the complacency of the Colombian government—and having devastating effects on Colombia’s population.

Two weeks ago, Daniel Aguire, a leader of SINALCORTEROS (a union that sugar cane cutters are organizing with) was shot and killed on his way home one evening. Aguire led the sugarcane work stoppage of 2008 and was one of the main negotiators for the workers. His death is a major blow to those trying to rid the sugar cane sector of illegal cooperatives so workers can organize and collectively bargain.

The government of Colombia is touting its work in the palm oil plantations of Puerto Wilches as a success, but leaders of SINTRAINAGRO (an agricultural workers union) working there received death threats in April, and many workers already have left the area in fear for their lives. Wilson Ferrer, president of the regional office of the CUT (the largest labor union confederation in Colombia) also received threats due to his involvement in the palm oil workers’ struggle.

Also in April, two members of SINALTRAINAL (a food industry workers union) in Cartagena received threats, and FENSUAGRO trade union activist Herman Henry Diaz was kidnapped or forcibly disappeared. He remains missing.

Labor leaders are not the only focus of continued violence and threats--land-rights, Afro-Colombian, indigenous and other human rights activists also have been targets. If this is the “new Colombia,” those who stand up for working people have plenty of grounds for concern. So far, the Colombia Labor Action Plan is simply not living up to its promise. These recent events reveal a facade of paper reforms and undermine real progress and good intentions. It is impossible for people to exercise their rights without a guarantee of personal safety.

Rather than moving to implement the FTA, the governments of both the United States and Colombia should re-examine not only the progress on the Action Plan, but the entire FTA. We need a new trade model that creates jobs, boosts economic development and increases standards of living in both countries.

Read more about Colombia’s labor rights record here

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