Colombian Unionists Endure Mass Arrests, Bombings in April

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The Alliance for Global Justice is very concerned about the April 17, 2014 detention of 17 agricultural workers and union members from the municipality of Leiva in the Colombian department of Nariño. This is one of a series of high profile arrests and mass detentions of union and peasant leaders that have occurred over the past two years.

These arrests are part of a campaign of retaliation against farmers who participated in the recent National Agrarian and Popular Strike (Paro Nacional Agrario y Popular) and preceding farmers strikes in the Catatumbo and coffee growing regions. Likewise they continue the targeted persecution against peasant organizations allied with the Patriotic March (Marcha Patriótica) popular movement for a just peace. Similar detentions have also occurred in the departments of Putumayo and Tolima. These detentions place families in jeopardy and have contributed to a more than 80% rise in forced displacement since the implementation of the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The 17 peasant workers detained in Leiva are all members of the Association of Peasant Workers of Nariño (ASTRACAN), astracan alert 1the regional affiliate of FENSUAGRO, the largest union of agricultural workers in Colombia.

The repression of unionists in Colombia is not limited to the agricultural sector. Just one day before the arrests of the Leiva 17, incendiary bombs were thrown at the headquarters of SINTRAEMCALI, the public sector union in Cali, Valle de Cauca. The attack occurred only five days following a major court decision ordering the Colombian president and vice president to ask forgiveness for crimes committed by the administration of former President Álvaro Uribe against SINTRAEMCALI as well as the SINTRAUNICOL and SINTRATELEFONOS unions. The order has still not been complied with. Over the past decade, 15 SINTRAEMCALI members have been killed and over 100 have received threats. “Operation Dragon” was a government supported assassination plot against the union’s leaders as well as other regional human rights defenders.

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On Monday, April 17, 2013, the United Steelworkers sent a letter signed by USW President Leo Gerard to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos calling on his administration to take action to investigate these latest incidents and to take action to protect SINTRAEMCALI leaders.

Will you also take a stand for Colombian unionists? Please click here to send an email to the offices of Pres. Santos, Vice President Angelino Garzon, the Colombian Embassy and the US State Department


Following is the text of the sample letter:


Escribo para protestar por la arbitraria detención masiva de 17 miembros de la Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos de Nariño (ASTRACAN), afiliado a FENSUAGRO, la mayor Federación de trabajadores agrícolas de Colombia.
También deseo expresar mi consternación sobre el reciente bombardeo de la Unión de Trabajadores del Sector Público en Cali (SINTRAEMCALI). Especialmente teniendo en cuenta este ataque violento, Pres Santos y Vice Pres Garzon deben tomar el paso correcto y cumplir con la decisión del Tribunal exigiendo una disculpa por los crímenes cometidos contra SINTRAEMCALI, así como SINTRAUNICO y SINTRATELEFONOS, durante el gobierno de Álvaro Uribe.

Hago un llamamiento a la administración de Santos para seguir los siguientes pasos:

1. Poner libertad a los 17 miembros de ASTRACATAN detenido el 17 de abril de 2013 y retirar todos los cargos en su contra;

2. Ordenar a la Unidad de Protección Nacional para investigar los atentados de la oficina de SINTRAEMCALI y garantizar la seguridad de los líderes de la Unión;

3. Cumplir con la decisión del Tribunal exigiendo el Presidente Santos y Vice Presidente Garzón para pedir perdón por los crímenes cometidos contra los sindicatos SINTRAEMCALI, SINTRAUNICOL y SINTRATELEFONOS durante la administración del ex presidente Álvaro Uribe.

Llamo al gobierno de los Estados Unidos a poner fin a su financiación de la guerra y la represión en Colombia y rescindir el libre comercio entre Estados Unidos y Colombia sobre la base del incumplimiento del Plan de Acción Laboral. Colombia sigue siendo el país más peligroso del mundo para ser sindicalista!


I am writing to protest the arbitrary mass detention of 17 members of the Association of Peasant Workers of Nariño (ASTRACAN), an affiliate of FENSUAGRO, Colombia’s largest federation of agricultural workers.

I also wish to express my dismay regarding the recent bombing of the public workers union in Cali, SINTRAEMCALI.  Especially in light of this violent attack, Pres. Santos and Vice Pres. Garzon must take the right step and comply with the court decision demanding an apology for crimes committed against SINTRAEMCALI as well as SINTRAUNICO and SINTRATELEFONOS during the government of Álvaro Uribe.

I call on the Santos administration to take the following steps:

1. Grant freedom to the 17 members of ASTRACATAN arrested on April 17, 2013 and dismiss all charges against them;

2. Order the National Protection Unit (Unidad de Protección Nacional) to investigate the bombings of the office SINTRAEMCALI and provide security for the union’s leaders;

3. Comply with the court decision demanding President Santos and Vice President Garzón to ask forgiveness for crimes committed against the SINTRAEMCALI, SINTRAUNICOL and SINTRATELEFONOS unions during the administration of former president Álvaro Uribe.

I call on the US government to end its funding of war and repression in Colombia and to rescind the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement based on the failure of the Labor Action Plan.  Colombia is still the most dangerous country in the world to be a unionist!