Pittsburgh – Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers, today released an emergency alert transmitted to Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, disclosing elevated death threats against labor leaders in Colombia.
The USW advised the assassination threats were confirmed by the Confederation of Workers (CUT), Colombia’s largest labor federation, in a communiqué issued by the militant right-wing paramilitary group known as ‘The Black Eagles.’ Gerard disclosed that the communiqué announced Colombian union leaders are now their “next military objective” and they would bring “war, blood and fire to their doorstep.”
According to Gerard, the threats were contained in a document delivered directly to CUT offices in Bogota at 4:00 pm, Oct. 17. “It is the CUT’s opinion, and ours as well, that it is not a coincidence that such a threat was made upon the Congress approving the Colombia FTA – that the paramilitaries now feel emboldened by this passage to wage war against the Colombian labor movement.
“We urge the Administration to call upon the Colombian government to take all measures to protect the members and leaders of the CUT, but especially the three individuals singled out by The Black Eagles.”
The USW made public, details from the communiqué of the paramilitary group that announced its intention to “declare war against all” of the Colombian union movement, and singled out the following union leaders for assassination: Heremes Ortiz, Bertulfo Solarte, and Jzairo Idrobo.
The reality on the ground in Colombia has not changed since the free trade agreement was approved by Congress against strong opposition by labor and human rights groups. A record 51 unionists were killed in Colombia last year. Since 1986, only five percent of more than 2,800 union killings have been prosecuted, making impunity the standard for justice in the killings. This year alone, 23 unionists have been killed in Colombia – 15 of those were since the U.S. negotiated Action Plan in April.
Gerard said, “The fact is, despite the negotiated Action Plan on labor rights in Colombia, the FTA signed today by President Obama should not be implemented until Colombia fully complies with key elements of the deal providing protection to workers and improving the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes committed against unionists.”
According to the USW, the rate of unionized workers in Colombia is 3.5 percent and collective bargaining benefits just 70,000 people out of a workforce of 20 million – one of the lowest rates in the world. For more information: www.usw.org/.