[CLM] 04-30-99 IN OTHER NEWS...

Colombian Labor Monitor xx738 at prairienet.org
Fri Apr 30 17:51:41 PDT 1999


COLOMBIAN LABOR MONITOR clm at prairienet.org www.prairienet.org/clm

"Behind the headlines, beneath the surface, between the lines"

IN OTHER NEWS... Friday, 30 April 1999


(1) Murderous generals honored, presidential campaign launched

(2) Colombian indigenous group seeks asylum in Spain

(and who can blame them?!)

(3) President Pastrana panders to greedy multi-nationals

(4) On eve of Mayday, Colombian labor continues the struggle


* (1) Murderous generals honored, presidential campaign launched

In the Red Salon of the Hotel Tequendama, Thursday evening, the red carpet was rolled out for Brigadier generals Rito Alejo del Rio and Fernando Millan, who were dismissed from the army earlier in the month by President Pastrana.

Under large posters that read "Neither guerrillas, nor paramilitarties: the Law", "Neither Left, nor Right: Colombia", the keynote speaker, former governor of Antioquia Alvaro Uribe Velez, denounced the dismissal of the two generals, and exclaimed that the two butchers served as soldiers with "initiative, honesty and austerity." The inconvenient fact that the odious duo were responsible for gross human rights violations and horrid massacres of innocent civilians was ignored by Uribe Velez and the elegantly-attired guests that turned out to show their support for the dismissed generals.

Uribe Velez went on to criticize the government for the conduct of the war against the guerrillas and dismissed the peace process as a sign of weakness.

The Colombian media quickly picked up on the keynote speaker's unspoken ambition to make a run for the presidency next elections and have accordingly been commenting on his candidacy as much as about the occassion he chose to unofficially launch it.

It should be noted that general Del Rio is a graduate of the School of the Americas, the notorious training ground for torturers and assassins run by the United States Army. He graduate on December 1, 1967. More that half of all graduates of the School of the Americas in its fifty year history have been Colombian officers and several of them went on to torture and murder thousands of fellow-Colombians.

* (2) Colombian indigenous group seeks asylum in Spain

(and who can blame them?!)

The Embera-Katio community of northern Cordoba province have expressed their interest for asylum in Spain, according to spokesman Gilberto Achito. The 2,500 members of the indigenous group are ready to leave their traditional lands in the upper reaches of the Sinu River, in Colombia, arguing that they are victims of government discrimination and are trapped in the cross-fire of Colombia's bloody civil war.

A delegation from the group presented a letter requesting asylum to the Spanish Embassy on Thursday, but it was not clear whether the asylum request was mainly intended as a publicity stunt or whether the group would withdraw the request in exchange for government assistance.

Some 50 Embera, many wearing traditional clothes and faces painted with vegetable dyes, also stormed the National Planning Department in Bogota to protest the lack of government policies specifically aimed at helping ethnic groups.

"There are no guarantees for us to live in our territory safely. We have taken the decision to leave our lands and leave the country because we cannot continue living here,'' Achito told reporters.

At least three Embera-Katio have been murdered so far this year by suspected guerrillas or ultra-right death squads.

Like the majority of Colombia's indigenous groups, the Embera-Katio have asked all involved in the three-decade war to stay off their land and respect their neutrality.

Much of their territory, however, spreads across a strategic mountain range linking Cordoba with northwest Antioquia province and has become a major transit route for both rebels and their right-wing paramilitary rivals.

The Embera-Katio also say they have been forced off some of their land by a government-approved hydroelectric project. Last year, the indigenous group won a court case granting them compensation for hardship caused by the so-called Urra project but so far no deal has been signed and no money has been handed over.

* (3) President Pastrana panders to greedy multi-nationals

President Andres Pastrana spend a good part of Thursday pandering to the greed of multinational corporations that, in the middle of a wave of strikes, sought his reassurance that he will tow the line and continue the marketization of Colombia. The President insisted that his administration is committed to improving the investment climate for the foreign companies.

A number of multinationals have been threatening to pull out of Colombia unless the government does something about all those pesky workers, uncouth guerrillas, and corrupt bureaucrats that keep the executives of multinationals from putting more caviar on the family table.

President Pastrana, a great fan of caviar himself, no doubt assured them that he will fight for the right of multinationals to suck Colombia dry of its resources and to turn the country into a vast, docile sweatshop.

A survey that was conducted recently by the Ministry for Foreign Trade among over 130 multinationals in Colombia, revealed that 32.9% of those polled answered that the insecurity and the violence constitute the principal disadvantage of investing in Colombia, followed by the economic and political instability with 19.4%, the tax costs (14.5%) and corruption with 8.1%.

The principal reason that the foreign investors would want to stay in Colombia is the size of the local market (41% of the polled) followed by "human resources" (33.2%) --read cheap, exploitable labor.

A number of the multinationals (Coca-Cola, BP/Amoco, etc) have used death-squads to do their dirty work in Colombia.

* (4) On eve of Mayday, Colombian labor continues the struggle

Saturday marks the 113th Mayday commemoration and Colombian unions are mobilized to demand a halt to the precipitous marketization of the country by President Anres Pastrana's administration.

A public transport strike nearly paralyzed Bogota for the second day in a row, as teachers and health care workers continue their own indefinite work stoppages.

The Association of Small Transporters (Apetrans), most of whose members own a single vehicle which they themselves drive, is protesting a law that stipulates that old vehicles must be pulled off the streets. Apetrans president Miguel Perez said some 3,300 vehicle owners were unable to afford to replace their old vehicles. If they fail to obtain loans, the drivers will have to remove their vehicles from circulation, which means thousands of families will lose their only source of income.

Public transportation was not the only sector affected by strikes this week. Some 300,000 teachers began an indefinite walk-out Monday, leaving around five million students without class.

Meanwhile, two groups of students are marching toward Bogota from Villavicencio and Tunja in the south to support the teachers, who are striking in protest against a bill being studied by parliament which they complain would privatize education.

And around 115,000 employees of public clinics and hospitals went on an indefinite strike Tuesday.

The Union of Workers of the District of Bogota is demanding a "levelling out" of salaries -in other words, the same wages for the same work- and a refinancing of the public health sector in order to pull it out of its present crisis, in which it is unable to meet the level of demand, said the union's president Francisco Maltes.

The students, health workers and teachers will join in the labor day demonstration Saturday called by the country's three main central unions.

Some 5,000 workers of the 'Caja Agraria' -a state-run bank that works with peasant farmers- have also been protesting this week against a restructuring of the institution that will leave some 2,000 people out of a job.

Unemployment stood at 17.4 percent in the first quarter of the year, or 1.3 million unemployed in a population of 37 million, the highest level seen this decade, according to the National Department of Statistics.

The escalation of protests has come in response to ''the reduction of spaces for discussion and dialogue'' under the government of Andres Pastrana, according to Julio Gomez, president of the General Confederation of Colombian Workers (CGTD), the country's third largest trade union.

Just two months after Pastrana took office last year, his government faced the longest general strike by public employees in the history of Colombia. Education, health, communications and oil workers all took part in the protest, which stretched from Oct 7 to 28.

In the view of Diego Escobar with the non-governmental Centre for Popular Education and Culture, the general strike marked a change in local union activism.

According to Escobar, the demands put forth during October's strike went beyond wage raises, and ''focused on debating issues like privatisations,the right to life'' (war-torn Colombia has the worst human rights record in Latin America, according to rights groups) and the need for wider participation in policy-making.

Colombian unions represent a mere four percent of the economically active population of 14.6 million. This decline in influence is partly due to the rise of the informal economy but also to a dirty war on labor carried out by right-wing death-squads that have operated with near total impunity over the past two decades.

Over 2,400 labor organizers and activists belonging to the largest labor federation, the CUT, have been assassinated since its founding in the mid-1980s. Not one person was ever charged for any of the murders.


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