Violence against union leaders has reached dizzying levels in Colombia. The Ombudsman's Office of Colombia recently reported that 343 social leaders and human rights activists have been murdered across the country since the peace agreement was signed in 2016.
A delegation made up of representatives from TUCA, CTC Colombia, CUT Colombia, BWI, PSI, ITF, UNI and IndustriALL Global Union held a number of meetings with the Colombian government from 12 to 14 September.
During a meeting with the Minister of Labour, Alicia Arango Olmos, the delegation expressed concern about the safety of social and union leaders in Colombia. They also condemned campaigns run by the national police force and members of the new government to systematically criminalize union and other social protests.
They made specific reference to recent statements by the Minister of Defence, Guillermo Botero. At the Confecamaras Congress held on 13 September in Cartagena, Botero told Colombian radio station Caracol that gangs linked to drug trafficking and the international mafia were financing the social protests.
Ms Arango Olmos, who also served as secretary to former president Álvaro Uribe and has been director of the Central Democratic Party since 2014, surprised the delegation by totally discrediting its claims.
She claimed that international unions were not aware of the problems in Colombia and were in no place to talk about what was happening there. She accused us of laying blame without the proper facts. Killings, threats and attacks against social and union leaders are on the rise in Colombia. Protection mechanisms don't work and are often not available at all, and any assistance provided often comes too late.
We are very concerned about the government's statements, which only serve to incite more violence and further criminalize the social protests and the right to freedom of association. The international union movement will continue to support workers in Colombia. We will seek to strengthen unions and social organizations by working together to bring sustainable development to the country.”
said IndustriALL's regional secretary, Marino Vani.