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Villavicencio, Colombia.

Two community activists have been murdered in the Colombian department of Meta in the last month and a half, in what oil and energy sector union USO condemns as a new chapter in a long history of systematic violence designed to weaken community and labor organizations in this petroleum-rich region.

Nelson Medina was murdered on Saturday, October 17th in Apiay, Meta where he acted as president of ARCA, a community-based organization that monitors and executes job-placement for local oil workers. Edith Santos was killed on August 29th in nearby Acacias. She was on the National Board of the union Sinproseg, which represents security officers, and president of the local Community Action Committee where her primary role was in the promotion of local jobs. Spokespersons from the union indicate that both victims were recognized leaders, actively involved in the region’s campaigns for social justice, and long-time USO allies.

This latest series of attacks comes as USO launches a new organizing campaign in the nearby conflict region of Puerto Gaitan, home to Colombia’s largest oil reserves, where the union is working in coalition with grassroots organization ACAAC (Environmental, Agrarian and Community Committee) to address issues such as regional employment, improved working conditions, and environmental protections (click here for more information).

Rodolfo Vecino, former President of the USO, indicates that “local labor intermediation has become a new way for organized crime to generate income throughout the country and increase its influence within the extractive industry”. Hector Sanchez, who presides over ACAAC, fears for his life: “we are denouncing the same type of corruption in Puerto Gaitan, where the mayors’ office has set up a labor intermediation committee, and is selling contracts to selected [oil sector] workers”.

This context of increased violence surrounding what Meta residents refer to as the “mafias of labor intermediation” has unfolded as the recently appointed Colombian Labor Minister indicates his intention to confront informal hiring practices in the oil industry. Although hiring through third-party intermediaries has been prohibited, the vast majority of oil sector workers continue to be employed in this manner.