AFL-CIO on Colombia

David Jennings [MSAI] djenning at
Fri Nov 5 07:06:30 PST 1999

I received this from a friend -- John Seeny's official letter to Albright on Colombia. Not exactly hot off the presses, so I apologize if this has already been posted and I missed it. Sorry about the long lines; its the best I could do.

Wasn't the ICFTU a CIA front? Is this chickens coming home to roost? I think for the union folks in Colombia, its just murder.


September 15, 1999

The Honorable Madeleine K. Albright Secretary of State U.S. Department of State Washington, D.C. 20520 FAX: (202) 647-1533

Dear Madame Secretary:

I am writing to express my deep concern, which I know you share, regarding the continuing violations of worker rights and other human rights in Colombia. Colombia's trade unions have been the leading advocates for peace, human rights, and economic justice in a nation afflicted by internal violence and external economic pressures. But they have paid a high price for speaking out.

According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), more than 90 trade unionists were murdered in 1998, mostly at the hands of paramilitary organizations with support from government security forces. Among the victims was Jorge Ortega, Vice-President of the Confederacion Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT) and one of many union leaders who have denounced both guerrilla and government violence and played key roles in efforts by civil society to achieve an effective and lasting peace. The violence has continued this year: on July 13, Humberto Herrera Gallego, President of the Sindicato de Trabajadores del Municipio de Puerto Rico, was killed; on August 1, the Human Rights Secretary of the CUT, Jesus Gonzalez, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in which one of his bodyguards was killed; and on August 31 Domingo Tovar Arrieta, the Secretary of Organization of the CUT, was also the target of an assassination attempt in which a bodyguard was wounded.

As noted in the State Department's 1998 Human Rights Report, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has criticized the Colombian Government for failing, since November 1996, to provide it with information on a single case of detention, trial, and conviction of anyone responsible for the murder of trade unionists. Union members who strike or exercise other internationally-recognized worker rights have been prosecuted in regional courts, where judges' and witnesses' identities are hidden and secret evidence can be admitted. The AFL-CIO has endorsed the position of the Workers' Party in the ILO in support of a Commission of Inquiry to Colombia this year, and I greatly appreciate the support that our government has given to this position.

While physical terror against unionists has drawn international condemnation, the Colombian government's program of economic deregulation, privatization, and flexibilization, fulfilling the prescription of the international financial institutions, has also undermined freedom of association and taken a severe toll on working families. The official unemployment rate now exceeds 20%, and mass dismissals and firings are widespread. Child labor is common in the cut flower and coal mining industries; studies indicate that there are 784,000 working children between the ages of 6 and 11. Despite the trade unions' support for the peace process, the Colombian government has been unwilling to involve labor in a substantive dialogue about social and economic reform.

Notwithstanding these threats to human and worker rights, Congress has sharply increased aid to the Colombian military for anti-narcotics efforts, while placing some limitations on aid to specific military units and training for individual officers implicated in human rights violations. The Director of the White House Drug Control Policy, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, has now requested an additional $570 million in anti-narcotics aid, including sharing U.S. intelligence with the Colombian military with no restrictions on how such intelligence is used. Recent press reports indicate that the Administration is seriously considering a major increase in both military aid and IMF support for economic restructuring.

While I share the Administration's concerns about the conflict in Colombia and greatly appreciate the efforts that have been undertaken to reduce human rights violations by Colombian security forces, I believe that our government must be extremely wary of deepening military entanglement with a government whose anti-union record is so clear. At a minimum, existing conditions on disbursement of aid to the military should be retained and broadened to cover all military units, with additional supervision by US Embassy personnel. Progress should be required on investigating the murders of union members and human rights activists and adjudicating those responsible, and on the dismantling of the regional courts. Additional assistance should be provided to strengthen the Colombian government's ability to investigate and prosecute human rights violations and to assist non-governmental organizations engaged in peace, human rights, economic development, and humanitarian relief efforts. As is the case of all countries seeking aid for reconstruction, the financial institutions and government should seek full participation of trade unions and other civil society organizations.

I greatly appreciate your attention to these concerns, and I look forward to hearing from you.


John J. Sweeney


JJS:pzb opeiu#2afl-cio

cc: Peter Romero

Phil Chicola

Harold Koh

Andrew J. Samet

Bill Jordan

Luis Garzon

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