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Uruguay’s PIT-CNT union condemns illegal surveillance of their president

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12 June, 2024Uruguayan trade union federation PIT-CNT is concerned at government officials’ illegal surveillance of its president, Marcelo Abdala, as this could damage the country’s democratic values.

On 6 June, two Uruguayan media outlets published details of their investigation into the unlawful surveillance of trade union leader Abdala by the former presidential security chief, Alejandro Astesiano. Journalist Lucas Silva has also written a book about corruption and spying within the government.

In early 2023, Uruguayan media published audio recordings confirming that Astesiano used surveillance cameras from the Ministry of the Interior to follow Abdala’s route on a public highway after he was involved in a traffic accident in February 2022. At the time, the PIT-CNT – of which IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the National Union of Metal and Allied Workers, (UNTMRA) is a member – condemned the unlawful surveillance as a practice that “violates individual rights and civil liberties, and calls into question Uruguay’s democratic quality”.

New information published by the media in June 2024 shows that Astesiano also sent WhatsApp messages to the President of the Republic, Luis Lacalle Pou, informing him about an investigation by the Anti-Drugs Brigade into a shop that Abdala had allegedly visited in 2022. They were trying to find out whether the shop sold illegal drugs, which it was later confirmed it did not. At a press conference, the President acknowledged that he regularly receives information from Artesiano “about high-profile individuals”.

In an official statement, PIT-CNT executive secretariat said:

“We are deeply concerned about these reports, which, if they true, represent a violation of the rule of law and deeply undermine our democratic values.

"The reports that an activist was under secret surveillance by the president’s security team, presumably with a view to harming him, and that the president was aware of this must be investigated carefully and responsibly. It is essential to determine the truth.”

IndustriALL has consulted with labour lawyers, who say that the illegal surveillance could constitute an infringement of Abdala's freedom of association, as he was being investigated as a result of his position as a national union leader and not for any personal reasons.

International labour law plays a key role in Uruguay, which has served as a model for the International Labour Organization (ILO), ranking fourth in the world in terms of the number of ratified labour conventions, including Convention No. 87 on freedom of association and Convention No. 98 on the right to organize and collective bargaining, both ratified in 1954.

“These actions against the PIT-CNT’s president, Abdala, are extremely concerning, as they could damage the country’s strong tradition of respect for human rights, pluralism, acceptance, tolerance, republicanism and democracy,”

says IndustriALL Global Union’s regional secretary, Marino Vani.