by James Jordan
The US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is set to go into effect on May 15, 2012, based on the approval given by President Obama regarding Colombia’s “compliance” with the Labor Action Plan. When Pres. Obama talks about improved labor rights in the war torn country, no one must be more baffled than the members of FENSUAGRO (National Unitary Federation of Agricultural Unions). FENSUAGRO is the largest Colombian organization of peasant unions and associations, with more than 80,000 members nationwide. Since the beginning of the year, several of their members have been disappeared, murdered, threatened and/or jailed, including, in April, the disappearance of Henry Díaz, who was on his way to attend events in Bogotá associated with the Left popular mobilization known as the Marcha Patriótica(Patriotic March).
Both the Marcha Patriótica and FENSUAGRO, one of its founding members, are being heavily targeted. On May 7, a pamphlet was received at the FENSUAGRO Bogotá offices from the paramilitary group the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles) declaring the leadership of FENSUAGRO, the Marcha Patriótica (MP)and several other groups associated with the MP to be “military objectives”. The pamphlet threatened,
…all…who are no more than auxiliaries of the guerrilla, terrorists, toad sons of whores friends of Chávez, that participate in all the marches against the legally constituted state and that obstruct the action of our glorious military institutions and the police, meddling and stirring up the communities so that they demand their supposed rights, demand lands and other supposed benefits they claim by virtue of being displaced or victims of the state….
For this reason we declare as military objectives the directives of the organizations…financed by the guerrillas for the work with the people and the construction of the new movement, Marcha Patriótica, which will eliminate the same as in years past: FENSUAGRO, ASOCAMNDES, CONAP, CND, ANDESCOL, REINICAR, FUNHASCOL, MANE, ANDAS, MESA NACIONAL, CASA DE AMISTAD CON VENEZUELA, FEDERACION NACIONAL SINDICAL NUEVO LIDERAZGO CAMPESINO….
It doesn’t matter to us if you are protected, miscarried sons of whores, because it will not serve you for anything, with only a few days remaining to abandon the city….
We are hoping to end this plague soon….”
This warning comes just days after FENSUAGRO affiliate Jimmy Ortiz Gutierrez received a similarly chilling threat. Ortiz is a young unionist who has been hounded by military troops in Sumapaz since December, trying to pressure him into giving false testimony implicating FENSUAGRO affiliates of collaboration guerrillas. Ortiz received a note on May 1 telling him,
“Guerrilla dog, don’t believe that you can save yourself, don’t believe that we don’t know where you are….the cleansing begins….you cannot shield yourself with a simple union because we go there to begin to take heads….and don’t believe that everything is going to end with you leaving your sector, there will not be an alert that saves you, we have already seen you in Bogotá and we do not lack gall, we are waiting to see if you yourself….take this decision, respond to our message within 20 days.”
Since the US Congress passed the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, ironically on Columbus Day (aka Day of Resistance to Colonialization), 2011, there have been a number of threats and assaults against unionists. However, the FTA could not go into effect until it was shown that Colombia was in compliance with a Labor Action Plan it agreed to in April.
In a September, 2011 letter to Pres. Obama, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, noted that,
“Despite the Labor Action Plan that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos agreed to in April, violent suppression of workers, as well as land rights, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian activists continues unabated…. Twenty-two union leaders have been killed so far this year in Colombia, including 15 since the Labor Action Plan went into effect. While the new government may have good intentions, unfortunately, on the ground, Colombian working families are neither safer nor more able to exercise basic rights. Colombia continues to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a union member,”
In fact, threats and repression are widespread in Colombia at this time. The Colombian organization Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders) has released a study showing the nation to be at its highest number in 10 years for threats and assaults against Human Rights Defenders.
For FENSUAGRO and other unions, human rights defenders, and for the Marcha Patriótica, the intensification of the targeting against them is cause for serious concern. These are not just idle threats. Consider this partial list of disappearances and assassinations for the last two weeks of April:
- April 18, FENSUAGRO organizer and Marcha Patriótica delegate Henry Díaz was “disappeared”, assumed to have been assassinated by the Colombian military.
- April 18, Martha Cecilia Guevara, who was also a Marcha Patriótica delegate, was also “disappeared”.
- April 26, Mao Enrique Rodriguez was assassinated. Rodriguez was a well-known activist and had been Chief of Body Guards for Carlos Lozano, a member of the Marcha Patriótica National Directorate. At the time he was killed, he was providing services for ANDAS (National Association of Collective Support). ANDAS is one of the Marcha Patriótica affiliates and is listed along with FENSUAGRO in the May 7 Águilas Negras pamphlet.
April 27, SINALTRAINAL unionist Daniel Aguirre Piedrahita was assassinated.
Despite this abysmal record, the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is set to go in effect on May 15, based on Colombia’s “fulfillment” of the Labor Action Plan as announced by Pres. Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia on April 14 and 15. Not only that, but Pres. Obama has since announced a plan to send “U.S. brigade commanders with hands-on counterinsurgency experience in Afghanistan and Iraq to spend two weeks with Colombian army and police units being deployed in rebel strongholds”. Since 1998, the US government has given Colombia more than $8 million in military aid through Plan Colombia.
The Marcha Política and the work of FENSUAGRO on behalf of peasant farmers are two of the best sources of hope in Colombia today for the establishment of peace with justice for family farmers and a secure and open political process. However, peace is not the objective for transnational corporations and big landowners, who are more interested in consolidating landholdings and access to natural resources. Plan Colombia has also led to the massive displacement of more than 5 million Colombians from 12 to 16 million acres. The US and Colombian governments have shown themselves to be more interested in serving corporate interests than those of the people. And corporations have also been shown, repeatedly, to be working hand-in-hand with the Colombian military and paramilitaries to repress unions and independent political movements.
WHAT YOU CAN DO!
ACTION NUMBER ONE–WRITE THE COLOMBIAN GOVERNMENT
Send an email to Colombia’s President, Vice President, Minister of Justice, Attorney General and National Public Defender, and to the embassy in Washington, DC. Here are the email addresses:
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: A regular problem for internationals contacting Colombian officials is that after a large number of emails complaining about human rights abuses are received, they start bouncing back. Please send your emails anyway, because some of them will get through! If possible, write your email in Spanish, since English messages are usually discarded automatically. Following is a sample email in Spanish, followed by a translation:
ASUNTO: Demando Protección para los Integrantes de la Marcha Patriótica y FENSUAGRO
Escribo para expresar mis inquietudes sobre los ataques y las amenazas contra dirigentes de Marcha Patriótica y uno de sus organizaciones constituyentes, la Federación Nacional Sindical Unitaria Agropecuaria (FENSUAGRO). Con el lanzamiento de la Marcha Patriótica y el Consejo Patriótico Nacional, ya han ocurrido una serie de desapariciones, asesinatos y amenazas en contra personas y grupos asociados con la Marcha, incluyendo la desaparición de Henry Díaz, integrante de FENSUAGRO y un delegado a Marcha Patriótica.
Más, en las semanas después del lanzamiento del Consejo Patriótico, FENSUAGRO ha recibido por lo menos dos amenazas significantes. El joven afiliado a FENSUAGRO, Jimmy Ortiz Gutiérrez de Sumapaz, recibió una nota probablemente de parte de miembros del Ejército, estacionado cerca, quiénes le han pedido repetidamente a dar testimonio falso en contra el liderazgo de FENSUAGRO. Y el 7 de mayo, la Directiva Nacional de FENSUAGRO recibió una amenaza en nombre del grupo paramilitar, Águilas Negras, que nombro a FENSUAGRO tanto como otros integrantes de Marcha Patriótica como “objetos militares”.
Como defensores internacionales de los Derechos Humanos, exigimos que el gobierno colombiano actúe inmediatamente para:
1. Proveer protección a los dirigentes nacionales de FENSUAGRO, y todos los otros integrantes amenazados.
2. Investigar las amenazas y, en lugar de la impunidad, llevar a la justicia a los autores y todos los responsables.
A propósito, sabemos que es una táctica usual del gobierno colombiano de no recibir y devolver correos internacionales que denuncian abusos de Derechos Humanos. Nos han devuelto muchos correos que hemos mandado, especialmente de la Presidencia y de otros oficinas gobernamentales. Pedimos que en lugar del rechazar nuestros correos, que escuchen a estas peticiones y actúen de una manera definitiva frente estas amenazas y que protegen los derechos de los integrantes de FENSUAGRO, de Marcha Patriótica de miembros de la oposición política.
FIRMA AQUÍ SU NOMBRE Y PAÍS.
Subject: I Demand Protection for the Members of the Patriotic March and FENSUAGRO
I am writing to express my concerns regarding the attacks and threats against leaders of the Patriotic March and on of the constituent organizations, the National Unitary Federation of Agricultural Unions (FENSUAGRO). With the launching of the Patriotic March and the National Patriotic Council, there have already occurred a series of disappearances, assassinations and threats against persons and groups associated with the March, including the disappearance of Henry Díaz, FENSUAGRO member and a delegate to the Patriotic March.
More, in the weeks following the launch of the Patriotic Council, FENSUAGRO has received at least two significan threats. The young FENSUAGRO affiliate Jimmy Ortiz Gutiérrez of Sumapaz received a note probably coming from members of the Army stationed nearby. They have repeatedly asked him to give false testimony against the leadership of FENSUAGRO. And on May 7, the National Directorate of FENSUAGRO received a threat in name of the paramilitary group, the Black Eagles, who named FENSUAGRO along with other members of the Patriotic March as “military objects”.
As international defenders of Human Rights, we demand that the Colombian government act immediately to:
- Provide protection to the leadership of FENSUAGRO, along with all its threatened membership;
- Investigate the threats and, in place of impunity, bring the authors of these threats and all those responsible to justice.
By the way, we know that it is a usual tactic of the Colombian government to not receive and to return international emails that denounce Human Rights abuses. We have had returned many emails that we have sent, especially to the President and other government officials. We ask that in place of rejecting our emails, that you listen to these petitions and act in a definitive manner against these threats and protect the rights of the membership of FENSUAGRO, the Patriotic March and the members of the political opposition.
SIGN YOU NAME AND COUNTRY HERE
ACTION NUMBER TWO-CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVE
Email or Call your Representative BEFORE TUESDAY MAY 15. (To find the contact information for your Representative, go to: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ . To call the National Switchboard for Congress, dial (202) 224-3121 .) Urge her/him to contact Pres. Obama and demand that he rescind his approval of Colombia’s compliance with the Labor Action Plan and suspend the US-Colombia FTA.
Tell your Representative that:
I am contacting you to ask that you demand that Pres. Obama take immediate action to stop the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement from going into effect this coming Tuesday, May 15, 2012. At the Summit of the Americas last week, Pres. Obama announced that Colombia was in compliance with the Labor Action Plan, and therefore the FTA could move forward and be fully implemented. However, the truth is that since the Labor Action Plan was agreed to in April 2011, there has been an ongoing series of assassinations, disappearances and threats aimed at labor unionists. In fact, since Pres. Obama’s announcement, three labor unionists have already been assassinated and threats have been made against all the leadership of FENSUAGRO, Colombia’s largest organization of peasant unions and asscociations, as well against the directorate of the opposition political mobilization, the Marcha Patriótica (Patriotic March). Furthermore, recent studies conducted by Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders) have shown that threats and assaults are at a 10 year high against Human Rights defenders in Colombia. Moving forward with the US-Colombia FTA, especially under the false pretense of improved labor and human rights, is tantamount to giving a “green light” for more abuses and more violence. Demand accountability-Stop the FTA!